Boys Don’t Cry-1999
Starring-Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny
Top 100 Films-#73 Top 10 Disturbing Films-#10
Reviewed February 8, 2017
Boys Don’t Cry is a fitting tribute to real-life figure Brandon Teena, a transgender man from Nebraska, who adopts a male identity and attempts to find love with Lana, played by Chloe Sevigny. Brandon is played by Hilary Swank. Sadly, Brandon was brutally raped and murdered at the hands of some local men- a fact that the film does not gloss over. Boys Don’t Cry is a heartbreaking and tragic film that will disturb some with its shocking and violent content- sadly it is a true story. Swank deservedly walked away with the Best Actress Oscar statuette.
Set in working class Nebraska and right smack in the midst of the heartland, Brandon has the cards stacked against him from the start. Not exactly the most open minded of areas, the film also sets a working class environment for Brandon as most of his friends are poor factory or bar workers. Born as Teena Brandon and female, Brandon (Swank) is a drifter and in trouble with the law for various unpaid tickets. He befriends ex-convicts John and Tom and becomes part of their crowd, falling in love with Lana- they are all unaware of Brandon being a female. When Brandon’s secret is revealed, Lana is accepting and the pair decide to run away together, but Tom and John decide to murder Brandon.
Swank’s portrayal of Brandon is brilliant and believable and very few actresses could successfully pull this off. Swank has angular, androgynous features to begin with, but her drastic physical transformation is jaw dropping. Having closed cropped hair and a male swagger, Swank immerses herself in the role, so much so, that as I watched the film I completely forgot that Brandon was not physically male. Her physical transformation is not the sole reason for the fantastic performance though- Swank is emotionally there in the role and in a heartbreaking scene, after being beaten and raped, is treated poorly by a sheriff handling the accusations- just when Brandon could use an understanding ear.
What a cold world it can be for someone who is different from most others as Boys Don’t Cry reveals in brutal, honest fashion. Anyone who knows the true story of Brandon Teena, knows he led a painful, tragic life, but was also filled with life and love- mainly for Lana. Worth mentioning is Sevigny’s performance as Lana- in love with the person that was Brandon, not so much the gender. Sevigny plays Lana as supportive, confused, and loving.
Director, Kimberly Peirce, became obsessed with the real-life case and does a fantastic job at tackling the film in a true, compelling way. To say nothing of the writing and the acting, Peirce also successfully uses a hand-held camera during Brandon’s strip scene and a surreal, muted light to portray the gloomy mid-west and the cold, hard lives that most of the characters lived. Impressively, Peirce accomplished all of this on a shoe-string budget, and took a wealth of inspiration from independent film legend John Cassavetes, who proved that gorgeous films can be made for very little money.
Many scenes take place in bars as Lana, a devoted karaoke singer, croons one tune after another, the highlight being Restless Heart’s 1988 country hit, “The Bluest Eyes in Texas”, which Lana sings in Brandon’s presence. The use of somber or sad songs gives the film as tragic soundtrack. Famed film critic, Roger Ebert, described Boys Don’t Cry as “Romeo and Juliet set in a Nebraska trailer park”.
Boys Don’t Cry is an enormous victory in film for the LGBT community and, along with Brokeback Mountain, is a perfect double-feature, as both are similar films, only one featuring males, the other females. Both are tragic, bleak, and all too real.