Going back to what I said in my entry for Slumdog Millionaire, I want to call attention to some more bad marketing and a really bad tagline. This movie is advertised with the tagline “A true story about finding the courage it takes to be yourself” yet I wouldn’t exactly say a film with this particular main character fits that description. We have a character who is a compulsive liar and when the truth came out, ended up getting raped and murdered. I’d say a better moral is “be yourself unless you’re in a town full of ignorant and conservative hicks or else you’ll get your ass blown off”. All that aside, this film is actually based on a true story so the ending isn’t really a spoiler if you just Google Brandon Teena. Anyway, let’s get going...
As I said this is the true story of Brandon Teena (birth name Teena Brandon), a young transgendered man born biologically female in 1993. Brandon decides to live as a boy including cutting his/her hair short, wrapping bandages on his/her breasts and stuffing a sock down the pants. Brandon’s town of Lincoln, Nebraska doesn’t take kindly to their sisters and daughters hooking up with a girl in disguise so Brandon takes off for the town of Falls City and falls in with a new fun crowd. He stays with single mother Candace and hangs out with wild rednecks Tom and John while eventually falling for the slightly eccentric Lana. Brandon loves it in Falls City but it becomes increasingly hard to make a new life for himself as the lies just keep coming out of him, especially when he has a big court date coming up. Eventually Tom and John start to suspect that something isn’t quite right with Brandon and a little investigation shakes everyone’s lives up for the worse.
I think Hilary Swank and Christian Bale should go for coffee and compare notes since the two of them don’t half-prepare for different roles do they? Swank actually lived as Brandon for a couple of months before filming began including cutting her hair, wrapping her breasts up and dressing in boys’ clothes. She was so convincing that her neighbours though the young man coming to and leaving her house (her in disguise) was actually her brother visiting. Swank also lied to director Kimberley Peirce saying she was 21, the same age as her character and also came from Lincoln, Nebraska. When Peirce confronted her about all these lies, she simply said “that’s what Brandon would do”. My hat definitely goes off to Swank and she really deserved that Oscar since she is nearly unrecognisable as Brandon. If I hadn’t known it was Hilary Swank then I probably would have guessed it was a male actor, that’s how convincing she was. I couldn’t have picked a better actress for the role myself. Funnily enough, the three other main actresses in the film all auditioned for the role of Brandon as well.
Chloe Sevigny plays Lana and I wish she had gotten the Oscar as well because I almost found her performance more captivating than Hilary Swank’s. She has a special quality about her that makes her seem no natural, like she really is Lana. There’s an actress playing the smaller role of Kate and I thought she was Anna Paquin at first, which she isn’t, but they do look quite similar. Peter Sarsgaard is playing John and gives another impressive performance. Even going into this knowing that John will eventually kill Brandon and rape him, he’s still a likeable character when we first meet him. Sarsgaard’s reasoning is that we the audience would need to understand why the other characters would hang out with him. I liked John when I first saw him and if this had been another kind of movie then he probably would have been a good guy. You know he’s definitely one of those “never a dull moment” type of characters. As Tom we have an actor called Brendon Sexton III and you’d be forgiven if you mistook him for The Faculty’s Shawn Hatosy because I did. They look similar and even their voices and way of speaking is pretty close.
I really like the film’s visual style which goes for a look that is both saturated and dark in a way to show the Nebraska landscape as a withdrawn type of place. I go back to something I said about Blood Diamond in that, while the style of the film looks pretty, the place itself isn’t. It’s a pretty place that you want to escape from which is exactly what Lana wants to do. Some shots are used to give us a surreal impression or the feeling of a hallucination, particularly the love scenes between Lana and Brandon where Lana has an orgasm and pictures herself in a car with the girls. Apparently the scene near the beginning of Brandon entering a roller rink used the same shots from The Wizard Of Oz where Dorothy first leaves the house and sees Oz. Peirce’s explanation is that the scene is meant to be like an entrance to manhood for Brandon as he goes after his first relationship with a girl. I also love the big wide landscape shots set against a dark blue sky, with a lot of time lapsing. The final shots are some of the most beautiful in the film.
My favourite scene is where Brandon first sees Lana. He’s in a karaoke bar with Tom and John and all three girls are called up on stage to sing. It starts of like a typical karaoke performance but eventually it fades to only Lana singing and we see how Brandon is captivated by her. The song is “The Bluest Eyes In Texas” by Restless Heart and it fits the scene perfectly, the best choice to pick for a love theme in the film. A cover of it by Nina Persson appears at the end of the film in another beautiful scene of Lana driving down the highway. I also really love the scenes mentioned above that have the surreal quality to them such as Brandon and Lana’s first love scene that is interspersed with shots of the skyline (it’s actually Dallas and not Falls City). There’s also another really great scene where the gang gets into a car race against some other people and end up getting chased by the cops. Brandon drives faster, on into a dust storm. It goes back to that hallucination feel, almost as a type of escape.
So in spite of my above ranting against the bad marketing tactics, I still hold this up as one of the best films of the 90s, itself the best decade there was. I can’t think of a film that has such an impressive cast and visual style as well as that proper indie feel to it. It’s been described as everything from Romeo and Juliet in a Nebraska trailer park to the next Rebel Without A Cause. It’s also been ranked as one of the 25 Most Dangerous Films of all time. It did rub a few people the wrong way but I think it has a theme that a lot of us can relate with – escape. Brandon wanted to escape to a new life and Lana saw Brandon as a way for her to escape from her confined life and see the world. And now I’m going to let you escape to Twitter where you can follow me and anxiously await my next entry.