Men Cry Bullets
Rating -

Drama/Comedy (US); 1998; Not Rated; 106 Minutes

Steven Nelson: Billy
Honey Lauren: Gloria
Jeri Ryan: Lydia
Harry Ralston: Freddy Fishnets
Bob Sherer: Booster

Produced by Harry Ralston and Tamara Hernandez; Directed and screenwritten by Tamara Hernandez

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Tamara Hernandez's "Men Cry Bullets" is an oddity in the world of underground humor, a film that will be so heavily advertised as dark comedy that most viewers will be seeing it under false expectations. Does it make us laugh? Hardly. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. At a time when audiences are often misinformed of movie subject matter, here is a picture that stares deep into the confounded heart of domestic violence, and doesn't look back. It is a bitter, tough, strong and powerful film, often shocking, occasionally amusing, and almost always compelling. Tragedy, it may be. Comedy, it is not.

That does not mean, however, that the filmmakers weren't aiming for a movie to make us laugh our heads off. Hernandez's script uses touches of light at the end of long, dark tunnels; in other words, brief moments of charm often accompany the most vile of situations. With this treatment, Hernandez was obviously attempting to bring as much comedy as she could to material that was not meant for it. She fails, in that manner, because we cannot find anything funny about lives such as these.

Yet the film works on several other standards. We feel for the people who fall victim to calamity, no matter how grotesque the situations. We watch characters haunted by their eerie pasts, even though their present lives aren't all that pretty, either. Transvestites, pig killers, abusive women, southern belles, worm eaters and big men in diapers occupy the screen for 106 minutes as if they are members of a genuine geek show. But the director never goes overboard--she is carrying us into a world bound by sexual and psychological extremities, simply because the story would not make much sense without it.

The plot is the target of much speculation. Here is the story of Gloria, a woman with long black hair, a beautiful pale face, and most importantly, an attitude worth ten screen vixens. Her life in the south is as predictable as we figure, until her boyfriend's wandering eye for sleazy-looking women is mystified by a man dressed as a woman on stage at a local bar. The raven-haired witch bursts out on the transvestite, and he is embarrassed when his clothes fall off on stage, revealing his true gender. Billy (Steven Nelson), the transvestite in question, finds Gloria the next day, and demands an apology for hurting his feelings. Later, she forces him to sleep with her.

While the tension between she and Billy escalates to odd levels, Gloria's current boyfriend is being seduced by her blonde debutante cousin Lydia (Jeri Ryan), who arrives in town without warning. Gloria isn't too fond of her cousin, and no wonder; in one particular scene, for instance, her biggest possession, a pet pig, is butchered with an ax by the cousin, and then served for dinner that night. Such events, followed by others, drive Gloria's anger through the roof. And since Billy is the closest around, he's her punching bag.

When the movie played at the Chicago Underground Film Festival last year, there was tremendous response. Certain male audience members even gave director Hernandez some feedback concerning the abusive relationship portrayed by Gloria and Billy. "When I was in Chicago," she said, "a man came up to me after a screening and said, 'I'll never be able to watch a woman get raped on TV, or in a movie, the same way again. Now I know how women feel when they see themselves being treated that way.'" Because of its deep messages, the movie even managed to nab 6 different awards at major film festivals, including one for Best American Film at Avignon. Now that it is being officially released in certain movie markets, others will finally have the potential of witnessing its versatile affects. Whether or not it will get major recognition, as other "dysfunctional family" movies like "Happiness" and "The Ice Storm," is still up in the air.

I'm guessing that people who approach the film as a comedy, as the director intends, will be severely disappointed. This is because they will be expecting big laughs and large smiles from a movie that would rather rip our heart out and shove it down our throats. But this, be warned, does not mean the movie is on the verge of collapse without humor. On an emotional level, "Men Cry Bullets" is an awkward but splendid achievement--not some cheap exercise in poor taste, as some might label it. Early on, there is a scene in which Gloria jumps on top of the dinner table when she learns that the tray of pork actually comes from her butchered pet pig. She kisses the meet, apologizes to it, and sheds tears of devastating sadness. She isn't the only one who is sad.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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