Boys Don't Cry

on October 08, 1999 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
The true story of Brandon Teena, a young woman who passed herself off as a man in rural Nebraska and was murdered for it in 1993, has been turned into an effective and emotionally powerful movie. But it skimps on the story's subtext, rendering it less than it might have been. Hilary Swank is superb as Brandon Teena, born Teena Brandon, who recklessly lives as a man and, not incidentally, runs up a string of female conquests along the way. Despite her gay cousin's warnings, she won't drop the charade, and that stubbornness gets her into trouble when she falls in with a group which includes striking Lana (Chloe Sevigny). Their involvement is what finally seals Brandon's fate.
Kimberly Peirce, a first-time feature filmmaker, directs plainly and strongly, and the sequence leading up to Brandon's murder is harrowing. Yet, strangely enough, "Boys Don't Cry" avoids most of the sexual politics that fuelled Brandon's odyssey. She's aware that she's a transsexual but doesn't do anything about getting a sex change, preferring to live as male, without considering the consequences of her actions. That's complex, but the film doesn't let us see beneath this man/woman, except for one lovely scene when Brandon's menstruation, and her need to get some tampons, devastates her. Her feelings about her body's "betrayal" are hard to watch. Otherwise, we have to take on faith the depths of Brandon's pain and confusion. Similarly, the movie only allows Lana one moving moment in which she becomes aware of the chances she's taking with her previously fixed sexual identity after she hooks up with Brandon. The film also doesn't make allowances for how threatening someone like Brandon would be in sexually conservative Nebraska. It may not turn her into a noble victim, but "Boys Don't Cry" doesn't really do justice to Brandon Teena's story, either. Starring Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny and Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Kimberly Peirce. Written by Andy Bienen and Kimberly Peirce. Produced by Jeffrey Sharp, John Hart, Eve Kolodner and Christine Vachon. A Fox Searchlight release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 116 min.
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