The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 16, 2000
Wide Angle

It is a question of identity
By Ervell E. Menezes

WHAT is it to have manís body (psychologically) in a womanís? What is the psychological trauma one undergoes before a sex change? How does one go through life in this kind of confused state? One finds all this and more Boys Donít Cry, a deeply moving and at times devastating film about a woman wanting to be a man.

A scene from Toy Story 2Based on a true life story of Teena Brandon (Hillary Swank) who leaves Lincoln for Falls City, Nebraska, to become Brandon Teena, a boy, and pursue "his" feelings for other women. And when "he" falls in love with singer Lana (Chloe Sevigny), Brandon slowly but surely runs into trouble. How Lanaís family and boyfriend Tom (Brendon Sexton III) react to this unlikely situation is what Boys Donít Cry is all about.

It is a serious film and to make its point it has to bring out some graphic details. But it also paints quite a despicable picture of small town America and the shambles that the family is as an institution. Like American Beauty, it is about the American dream-turned-nightmare and all this is narrated against the backdrop of the sexy sixties when this confused young woman wants to befriend other women.

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That Hillary Swank won the Best Actress Oscar for her brilliant performance is not at all surprising. She had to do a good deal of research on the real-life character and so convincing is her portrayal that at no time does one think she is acting. It is as though we are seeing the real Brandon Teena or Teena Brandon.

All credit is due to director Kimberly Pierce (who was in New Delhi with the film for IFFI) who said "acting is all about exteriorising emotions". And Hillary Swank couldnít have given a better example of this. Pierce got Swank to live six weeks with transexuals so that she could fully understand what it is to have "two genders."

But the big question is whether the film would do more harm than good. Though we are fast imitating the West, we havenít reached this level of depravity. And honest though the film may be about the subject it is portraying, wouldnít it be seen for the wrong reasons? At the Delhi festival it was well received but at a private preview in Mumbai recently it seemed too much for the audience that giggled and passed snide remarks. It was apparent they were not serious students of cinema and were only there for the sexy scenes.

I am told that Fight Club, the film I have written about earlier in this column, has been banned because of the violence in it. I agree violence is far more repressible than sex, but in Fight Club one realises that the film is anti-violence and this is a point the censors should have considered before banning it. On the other hand Boys Donít Cry has a good deal of explicit sex because of the serious nature of the subject.

Toy Story, released in 1996, was one of my favourite animation films. There were such amusing characters like cowboy Woody and his rival spaceman Buzz Lighyear, Mr Potato Skinky Dog, Ham, the know-it-all piggy, and Rex, the dinosaur. Whatís more it was about making up and how rivals become friends. It was in the same bracket as The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, which I rate very highly. But then Hollywood can hardly resist a sequel and that often is its undoing.

Though Toy Story 2 began impressively with how the other toys join forces to rescue cowboy Woody from a greedy collectors, the logistics are far too complicated. The camaraderie among the toys is still there (and how they fear a yard sale) but the action is somewhat laboured. In the end, even the 90-minute duration of the film seems too long. Director John Lasseter fails to realise the importance of brevity. His preponderance with special effects and overstating the obvious have certainly worked against him and at best Toy Story 2 is a mere shadow of the parent film.

Oh I saw The Valley of the Dolls on Star Movies and really enjoyed it. Based on Jacqueline Susanís novel, it paints a graphic picture of Hollywood at the beginning of the drugs era of the 1960s. Patty Duke plays Neely OíHara to perfection, a singer who rockets to fame but cannot take success and therefore comes tumbling down. Barbara Perking Susan Hayward and Sharon Tate (Roman Polanskiís wife who was one of the Manson murders victims) are also there but director Mark Robson does well to delineate his characters. Pacing and spacing is important. Today things are rushed up. One needs a bit of time for the story to sink in and that is precisely what makes The Valley of the Dolls so watchable.