Homeboys Do Cry

Ouch. Film serves art but disses reality -- sort of

Let me rephrase all this. John Lotter is an aberration, but he is also the product of a culture that does exist in Falls City and much of the rural Midwest. He is a product of a pocket in the rural white underclass that has festered and swollen ever since the first bright kid who could leave did leave.

I had to leave, and I was only 16th in a class of 63. My friends left. In theory, this breaks my heart. In theory, I've betrayed my people.

In reality, in this age, you must leave an isolated Midwestern town of 5,000 with no college and no high-tech industry if you want to succeed and experience what the world has told you is life. As far as I can tell, this is the story of half the under-40 expatriates who make up the population of Phoenix.

Low-lifers living low in Boys Don't Cry.
Low-lifers living low in Boys Don't Cry.

Indeed, if you roll into Falls City on a Friday night and take a cruise down Harlan Street, disregarding the high school kids, you will find many of the few warm bodies in their 20s and early 30s immersed in a world of the shiftless and bored and mediocre and broken and dispossessed.

I spent much of my college summers back in Falls City at keggers with guys like John Lotter and Marvin Nissen. Those sweaty evenings held a very strange edgy energy. I figure it was the energy of youth and the promise of Friday night and the liberation of a good buzz bashing up against the reality of an empty keg on a dark muddy beach after everything within 100 miles had closed. This was, as we called it, "fuck or fight time." Every regret in Falls City was born of this hour.

Kimberly Peirce set her movie in this time, and the mood she created does exist. It is the only legitimate setting for her film and its subject matter. It explains both her protagonists and antagonists. Artistically, she had to do it.

My beef, then, isn't with her or the movie or with the equally brilliant documentary The Brandon Teena Story, or with John Gregory Dunne's astute New Yorker essay, or even with Aphrodite Jones' accidentally hilarious book All She Wanted.

It is with a passive non-foe -- the nature of cinematic art. Plots must be streamlined. A unified sense of place must be established. The necessity of dramatic effect tramples the subtlety and complexity of reality but, in doing so, portrays a more powerful emotional reality.

And this, of course, is a problem only when this dramatic effect is trampling people and places that are real.

Out of that comes the commentary on film. Reviewers have a job to do -- they must squeeze descriptions into two or three paragraphs. This ain't a travel piece; it's telling the reader what this movie is about in a nutshell.

And in this case, the nutshell holds "Falls City -- hick town where dead-end residents live." It is killing as the bombardier kills -- anonymously and without any direct human-to-human malice.

So a young man feels compelled to boot up, rally 'round the family, raise the Jolly Roger. You talkin' to me? My name is Don Quixote de la Falls City. You have betrayed me; you have dishonored my family. Prepare to die.

Ultimately, the worst part of all this is that I've taken umbrage at all. Lighten up, Francis; your umbrage reeks of false pride. And I'm disturbed because it's the same false pride that fuels so many explosions of violence.

And it's a false pride I picked up on a late Friday night in Falls City. Boys Don't Cry. Boys Fight.

But, then again, I also learned to hate false pride in Falls City. On Sunday, I learned to turn the other cheek, do unto others. If that was too holy for my mood, I learned on Monday to measure the cost/benefit expediency of retribution.

It was a marketplace of ideas, not the half-empty vending machine of the small-town stereotype.

So, in what I hope is a reaction that will honor my home, I plan to remain ambivalent toward Boys Don't Cry.

And, for some of the same reasons, I will always remain ambivalent toward my hometown. Because of the Falls City you see in the movie, I can never go home. But because of the Falls City you don't see in the movie, I will always long to go home.

It's an ambivalence suffered by many of those who leave their small-town home. And, for me, at least, this ambivalence is the most painful part of calling a small town your home.

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