Men Cry Bullets (1997)
Directed by Tamara Hernandez
Cast: Steven Nelson, Honey Lauren, Jeri Ryan, Harry Ralston, Michael Mangiamele, Bob Sherer, Sabrina Bertaccini, Trish Elliot, Hugh Bogan, Fred Kenyon, Edith Shatz.
1997 106 minutes
Rated: [NR] (equivalent of an R for violence, profanity, gore, nudity, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 12, 1999.
Independent director Tamara Hernandez's feature film debut, "Men Cry Bullets," is a quite provocative piece of work for one reason: in telling the story of a physically and emotionally abusive, love-hate relationship, it turns the cliche on its head by making a gender-swith and having the female as the dominant, forceful one, and the male as the passive, sensitive one.
"By reversing the genders in the film and showing the victim as a weak man and the abuser as a violent woman," speaks Hernandez, "I tried to express to men what it feels like to be a vulnerable girl, and to shed fresh light on the seductively insidious nature of abusive recognizable brutes." This potential gimmick ultimately works well in the finished product of Hernandez's film, and is ably equipped to encompass such a thing in order to create a believable story that, as in many abusive relationships, is headed for tragedy.
The film begins on the night of the innocuous, young Billy's (Steven Nelson) first performance in a club, posing as a drag queen. Dressed as his late mother (in flashbacks to his childhood, we see the abuse she took from his unstable father), Billy goes onstage and starts to hit it off until he is humiliated by the precarious, loudmouthed 33-year-old writer, Gloria Hunter (Honey Lauren), who assaults him when her boyfriend gets up on the stage to dance with him. Somehow drawn to Gloria, even after experiencing her juvenile ways, Billy goes to see her at her home, where she still lives with her parents and has a pig that she calls her child. Gloria half apologizes to him, she gets him to fix her breakfast, and then while out in the shed, she rapes him. Horrified and upset, Billy nonetheless begins an infatuation with her, and for brief, isolated moments, they appear to be a happy couple. Things grow more complicated with the appearance of Gloria's debutante cousin, Lydia (Jeri Ryan), a beautiful blonde who gradually forms the final part of a love triangle destined for failure and affliction.
"Men Cry Bullets" is an involving dark comedy-drama that, occasionally, is at least a little too offbeat and odd by a half, particularly in the final half-hour, which includes a drunken, fantasy-like three-way sex scene, a potential poisioning, and murder. The ending is especially unsatisfying, bringing the conflict to a close but, at the exact same time, creating new, more complicated problems that are never explored before the end credits roll.
For the first 70 minutes, however, the film works wonderfully, particularly due to Honey Lauren's dazzling performance. As the venemous, wicked Gloria, she adds unexpected dimension to the "villain" role by making her an alternately spiteful and likable woman. At times, when Gloria is not exploding into fits of rage, we are able to half understand her position. After all, she is edging into her mid-30s, still lives at home, does not have anyone to love except her pig, and is seeing a psychiatrist. It is also apparent that she respects her parents but, simply put, she is nothing but a child inside, albeit a dangeous one.
Steven Nelson has the right looks to be believable as Billy, an innocent man who also is often childish and haunted by his past, but unlike Gloria, keeps his feelings bottled up inside rather than taking them out on others. The problem with Nelson is that, in comparison to Lauren, he does not captivate the viewer as he should, nor did he really make me care for him. Oddly enough, I did care about the fate of Gloria, most likely because she was a more easily identifiable and multi-layered character.
Rounding out the three principles is Jeri Ryan (of TV's "Star Trek: Voyager") as the southern belle, Lydia. Ryan is often very funny, and runs with her flightly, unconciously egotistic lines of dialogue. The key to Lydia not turning into a stuck-up, dispicable character is that she really does care for her cousin, Gloria, and even admires her for her forthrightness. When Billy and Lydia become friends, and he starts to understand that he needs to say goodbye to his relationship with Gloria, Lydia makes a kind-hearted offer for him to come back with her when she returns to her southern home. Ryan is the most well-centered character of the three, and therefore, somewhat helps to keep the film from flying completely off the deep end in the over-the-top penultimate sequences.
"Men Cry Bullets" is a flawed motion picture, and yet it works despite its many problems. Digging underneath the surface, the film is basically about two unhappy people (Billy and Gloria) who have their own sets of serious problems and are both lonely individuals, but whose wildly diverse personalities do not mix, no matter how hard they try. Writer-director Hernandez is a promising talent who sometimes needlessly gets a little arty (such as pointlessly intermixing color and black-and-white photography), and who loses track of her realistic focus in the latter half, but never condescends to the characters or the audience. "Men With Bullets" is a tough, if uneven film, perfectly admirable for a first film from a new director, but something tells me Hernandez has stronger, more balanced stories to tell in the future, and those will be greatly anticipated by myself.
© by Dustin Putman