Complex `Boys' strangely shallow

October 22, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

"Boys Don't Cry" is the narrative feature version of the story of Brandon Teena, a young woman who successfully passed as a man for several years before being brutally raped and murdered in a small town in Nebraska in 1993.

Teena's story has already been recounted in a riveting New Yorker story, as well as a documentary shown last April at the Maryland Film Festival. Some of Teena's former girlfriends recalled her as the best boyfriend they ever had, and the documentary included tapes of an interview with the Falls City sheriff revealed the depths of the homophobia Teena faced.

Little of that depth is revealed in "Boys Don't Cry," which recounts only the last few months of Teena's life, when she moved from Lincoln, Neb., to Falls City and fell in with a crowd of druggy, aimless young people. When Brandon became besotted by the hard-edged Lana, and when her feelings were returned, she aroused the jealousies of Lana's male friends. When they discovered Brandon's gender, she aroused a much more violent fear and hatred.

Even with a heroic performance by Hilary Swank as Teena, Kimberly Peirce's debut feature is too sketchy about her protagonist's interior life, and too fast and loose with the details of this story, to make much of an impact beyond its initial shock. Peirce can be forgiven -- even praised -- for not speculating too much on Teena's deepest psychological and emotional motivations throughout her troubled life. But less forgivable are some serious lapses in geography, including putting Southern accents in Midwesterners' mouths or having them drink an expensive Texan beer (the movie was filmed in Texas).

They're small details but important enough to detract from a chilling portrayal of the lethal combination of rural poverty, boredom and drugs, as well as the deep anxieties that surround gender and identity.

Rated R

Running time: 114 minutes

Sun score: **1/2

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