Boys Don’t Cry Review


The story of Brandon Teena is a tragic one, and knowing its outcome ahead of time makes watching Boys Don’t Cry a difficult, but interesting experience. Brandon was born a female—Teena Brandon—in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was a pre-op transgender in late 1993. When his true identity was revealed to his friends, John Lotter and Tom Nissen, they raped Brandon. When he went to the police, they resorted to murder. Rookie director Kimberly Peirce doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the crime, which makes for a very powerful film, but her depiction of Brandon—that of a fallen hero—is very simplistic. The best biopics are those whose main character is a complicated individual, and Peirce’s interpretation of Brandon Teena isn’t all that complicated an individual. His situation is, but our feelings for him are never torn.

The film opens as Brandon (Hilary Swank) is beginning to explore being transgendered. He’s essentially on his own, and he spends his time going out, trying to convince young girls that he is like every other guy. One night, he meets a group of young men and women from a town called Falls City. Like most Midwestern towns at this time, she kind is not welcomed. But as no one suspects he is physically a woman, he has no problems fitting in. Brandon develops a close friendship with John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom (Brendan Sexton III), and he falls in love with Lana (Chloe Sevigny). But as they all get more familiar with Brandon, they start to realize something’s not as it seems. And when the truth comes out, the consequences of Brandon’s lies are deadly.

The film is anchored by Hilary Swank’s extraordinary performance. She won her first Oscar for her work as Brandon (her second came in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby), and the recognition was well-deserved. The character is underwritten, as I stated earlier, but Swank still breaks our hearts with her performance. Chloe Sevigny was nominated for an Oscar for her work. It’s less flashy—and her character is pretty annoying—but she’s also quite good. She’s blinded by love. Even after she gets into a sexual encounter with Brandon, she denies what is obvious to everyone around her.

The film’s final third is absolutely brutal to watch. Here, we are shown the crimes in harsh detail. And knowing exactly how it will turn out just makes it harder to watch. Boys Don’t Cry is a very good film (with one big flaw), but I can’t say it’s for everyone. Many, I’m sure, are simply unable to sit through such an emotionally draining film. Those who can, however, are in for a rewarding cinematic experience.

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