When Brandon Teena, a young man with an infectious, aw-shucks grin and an angelic face that's all angles, wanders into Falls City, Nebraska, he takes to the town like it's a second skin. In little time he's fallen in with a gang of goofy if temperamental redneck boys, found himself a girlfriend, and befriended enough people to form something of a small family. In fact, it's the best time Brandon's ever had. However, there are shadows looming over Brandon's life: a court date for grand theft auto, a checkered criminal record, and a seemingly innocuous speeding ticket that could prove to be his undoing. Why? Because as it turns out, Brandon Teena is actually Teena Brandon, a woman masquerading as a man.
This fascinating story was based on real-life events (as documented in The Brandon Teena Story) that occurred in 1993 and ended in tragedy: Brandon's rape and murder by two of his supposed friends. Despite this horrible outcome, however, in the hands of director Kimberly Peirce (who cowrote the unfettered screenplay with Andy Bienen), Brandon's story becomes not oppressive or preachy, but rather oddly and touchingly transcendent, anchored by Hilary Swank's phenomenal, unsentimental performance. Swank inhabits Brandon's contradictions and passions with a natural vitality most actresses would refuse to give themselves over to. Brandon's deception is doomed from the start, but Swank's enthusiasm is infectious, and when Brandon starts romancing the sloe-eyed Lana (a pitch-perfect Chloë Sevigny), he finds a soul mate who wants to transcend boundaries and fated identities as much as he does. The last part of the film, when Brandon's true identity is discovered, is truly painful to watch, but in between the agony there are touching moments of sweetness between Brandon and Lana, who wrestles with the truth of who Brandon actually is. You'll come away from Boys Don't Cry with affection and respect for Brandon, not pity. --Mark Englehart
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48 of 50 found the following review helpful:
Courageous, Intense, DevastatingMar 28, 2000
By Michael Crowley
Congratulations to the filmmakers and financiers of this bold film, and also to the Academy for giving it prominence.
"Boys Don't Cry" succeeds as a portrait not only of a sexual identity crisis but simply as a portrait of one woman's compassion (Chloe Sevigny) for another human being--it succeeds where "My Own Private Idaho" failed because "Boys" is an aesthetically cohesive work of art. Director Kimberly Pierce is astonishly gifted. Her attention to detail, composition, and her ability to use locations and static objects as metaphors for what is transpiring in the minds and lives her her characters is remarkable. The editing is also another noteworthy feature (although the use of flashbacks in Act III is unnecessary and detracts from one of the film's most powerful scenes).
Although Hilary Swank is undeniably amazing, it is the character played by Chloe Sevingny that gives this film its emotional resonance. Her role is not a supporting role but a lead role--in fact she is technically the protagonist (undergoes classic character change)and has nearly as much screen time as Swank. Sevingny's performance is absolutely brilliant.
One warning: I walked into this film unaware of how disturbing it would be and was blindsided. This is a gritty, no holds barred film about a sensitive subject.
Although I doubt this was Kimberly Pierce's primary intent, the film also stands as a powerful argument in favor of hate crime legislation. There is an emotional plea for tolerance at the core of this movie, and people on the political fence may find that this film moves them in the direction of conceding that hate crimes comprise a separate category.
69 of 75 found the following review helpful:
Not Masquerading and Not about sexual orientationMar 05, 2000
By Rainn MacPhail
This is an excellent film, however the subject is heart wrenching. The film isn't about a girl masquerading as a man or about a confused lesbian. These terms have unfortunately been equated with the film and are inaccurate. Brandon was an FTM, a transgendered person/transexual who was pre-op. The film does deal with Brandon's affirmation of his (yes--editors-HIS)true SELF (read Jung). Chloe Sevigny portrays a young woman who is able to see beyond the physical and into Brandon's true SELF. Unfortuately, 2 disturbed men, who have many issues in themselves, in their limited vision and supposed masculinity are challenged by Brandon's transgenderness. They project their own insecurities out on Brandon--brutally raping and murdering Brandon, a young mother, and an African American (not shown in the film). Warning: this film is emotionally upsetting and demonstrates the issue of violence on many levels--all folks can relate. In many respects, this film ranks on the levels of Schlinder's List and Platoon. Please make sure you see the film with someone so you can talk afterwords. Trust me, I conducted a panel after a showing of the film for an audience of 40-50 individuals. Let the pain in and feel it. It's the only way you can truly understand the film.
It's too bad that Kimberly Peirce was not nominated for an Academy Award for her direction. The film is EXCELLENT!
75 of 84 found the following review helpful:
Sometimes they doOct 11, 2004
By Dennis Littrell
This movie really made me think about sexual differences and what it means to have a sex change or to want one, or to be trapped in a gender you don't want. It was very effective to have us see Hilary Swank (who plays Brandon Teena/Teena Brandon) with short hair and male facial expressions and gestures without giving us a glimpse of her as Teena. (Actually we did get a brief glimpse in a photo.) Swank looks like a boy, acts like a boy, in fact works hard to be a boy; indeed that is (sadly) part of what this movie is about, what it means to be a boy in middle America as opposed to being a girl. And then when we have the scene with the tampons and the breast wrapping and we see her legs, the effect is startling, an effect possibly lost on those who knew that the person playing Brandon was a woman. It was when I saw her legs and could tell at a glance that she was a woman with a woman's legs that I realized just how subtle, but unmistakable are the anatomical sexual differences, and how convincing Swank's portrayal was.
I was reminded as I watched this of being a young person, of being a teenager and going through all the rituals and rites, unspoken, unplanned, without social sanction, that we all go through to prove our identity, because that is what Brandon was so eager to do, to prove his identity as a boy. I thought, ah such an advantage he has with the girls because he knows what they like and what they want. He can be smooth, and how pretty he looks. It was strange. I actually knew some guys in my youth who had such talent, and the girls did love them.
The direction by Kimberly Peirce is nicely paced and the forebodings of horror to come are sprinkled lightly throughout so that we don't really think about the resolution perhaps until the campfire scene in which John Lotter shows his self-inflicted scars and tosses the knife to Brandon. Then we know for sure that something bad is going to happen.
Hilary Swank is very convincing. Her performance is stunning, and she deserved the Academy Award she won for Best Actress. She is the type of tomboy/girl so beloved of the French cinema, tomboyish, but obvious a girl like, for example, Zouzou as seen in Chloe in the Afternoon (1972) or Elodie Bouchez in the The Dreamlife of Angels (1998), or many others. Indeed, one is even reminded of Juliette Binoche, who of course can play anything, or going way back, Leslie Caron in Gigi (1958). Chloe Signvey, who plays Lana Tisdel, the girl Brandon loves, whom I first saw in Palmetto (1998), where she stole a scene or two from Woody Harrelson and Elisabeth Shue, really comes off ironically as butch to Swank, yet manages a sexy, blue collar girl next door femininity. She also does a great job. Peter Sarsgaard is perfect as John Lotter, trailer trash car thief and homophobic redneck degenerate.
Very disturbing is the ending. If you know the story, you know the ending. Just how true this was to the real life story it is based on is really irrelevant. I knew nothing about the story, but I know that film makers always take license to tell it the way they think it will play best, and so it's best to just experience the film as the film, independent of the real story, which, like all real stories, can never be totally told.
Obviously this is not for the kiddies and comes as close to an "X" rating as any "R" movie you'll ever see. It will
make most viewers uncomfortable, but it is the kind of story that needs to be told.
81 of 92 found the following review helpful:
the bluest eyes in texas are holding him tonightApr 20, 2000
By thomas angelo zunich
Not only were all the performances in Boys Don't Cry fantastic, so was the directing by Kimberely Pierce. She directed the film in a modern light, giving Boys Don't Cry and almost "underground" aestectic quality. She used dark midwestern landscapes and splashed them with strikingly bright colours of a city's neon lights. Nebraska never looked so alternative.
Oscar winner Hillary Swank and nominee Chloe Sevigny both give standout performances, humanizing their characters making us believe we are watching a real life situation unfolding. The girl from the tv show "Roseanne" also gives a great performance, along with the actress who played the mother. The 2 guys in the film who played the white trash thugs give me the creeps. That's how good this movie is, it honestly makes you love and hate the characters with passionate intensity.
As for the reviewer who only saw the film as "teena brandon hanging out in bars looking for lesbian sex", well you obviously missed the point of the movie. It's not a trivial "feel-good date movie". It has a deeper, more important theme. Boys Dont Cry is a story about a lost soul searching for his/her identity. While her search is battling against a world with little campassion or understanding of her needs and feelings as a human being. The strident voice of middle American intolerance is Brandon's ill fated downfall in life. He only wanted love, because everybody needs love.
23 of 23 found the following review helpful:
Heart Shattering MasterpieceApr 20, 2000
By I. Rodriguez
Having just seen the film, I have to say "Boys Don't Cry" is one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. Swank's performance could have gone horribly wrong, and yet she kept the tour de force up for the entire two hours of this mesmerizing film. What I liked about it was:
1. The direction: Remember, this is a first film. Kimberly Pierce had worked five years to bring her script to the screen, and does so in a refreshing, UNPRETENTIOUS way I really related to. Like "In Cold Blood" and "Badlands" she focused on the life of these midwestern characters in such a genuine way that I wouldn't be surprised how people might not be blown away by it. In fact, it is a SUBTLE approach that I find more effective in films, I'm all for special effects as in "The Matrix" and the aesthetic elements of say, "American Beauty," but Pierce's ear for dialogue and her vision of Falls City as this vast wasteland where young people don't have much of a future and are filled up with frustrations was inspiring. She told a HUMAN INTEREST STORY against BIGOTRY in such a DECENT way that even the VILLAINS came out as being all too human. The narrative structure, while not flashy, was quite complex and hard to get away with. There was a flow to the film that gave it the heart that was needed to accurately represent the characters. It's a SHAME that Pierce fell to the wayside in the awards season--simplicity seems to be overlooked because most people don't realize that attaining such an ability is the hardest thing in the world.
2. The acting: Hilary WAS a boy. Her movements, her countenace, everything. Our complicity with her character made me realize just how strong a performance she gave. Every second, in her face, I could see the fear of being found out. All the complexities of Brandon Teena came alive with a movement of the lips or with a certain look. The need to please everyone while at the same time compensating her mere existence with lies and deceit. It is a very demanding role that she pulled off magnificently. And more importantly, it is a new kind of role. I've seen the controlling/hysterical woman Annette Bening played (Faye Dunaway in "Network" to name one). But in the type of role Swank had to play she had little to work with (Jaye Davidson's Dil in "The Crying Game" comes to mind) and yet she avoided becoming a pitiful figure, and managed to give Brandon an inner beauty that wasn't preachy or contrived. CHLOE SEVIGNY was incredible. As a matter of fact, she impressed me even more than Swank. It is a subtle, powerful performance that also rises above any other "girlfriend" type role I have ever seen. She endowes Lana with the ability to really love and care for Brandon and is truly the ray of hope in an otherwise dark movie. PETER SASGAARD is also a stand out as John Lotter, because he was so human. An insecure, childish, violent man who is also capable of showing a lot of affection for his daughter. The undercurrents of BRENDAN SAXTON III's performance are also worth mentioning simply because it shows without a lot of words the confusion he must have felt when he found himself attracted to this "guy." There are so many layers to this film that I could go on and on praising it. Of course I have one problem with it:
1. THE FACTS: Like "The Insider," "The Hurricane," and a million other films, BDC plays with the facts. Another person was murdered in that house, an African American male. I feel that for the film's sake, it was VITAL to focus on the Lana/Brandon relationship, but being familiar with the case, I thought they could have handled the misrepresentation of the third victim better.
In short, it was an amazing movie. Best one I've seen since "Election." But unlike "Election," it doesn't deal with already explored themes. This is unexplored territory Ms. Pierce was going into, and she came out--as far as I'm concerned--as an extremely promising filmmaker who will hopefully continue to tell socially relevant stories in this f*ed up world in which baseball fans give a standing ovation to a bigott and even wear t-shirts that say "JOHN ROCKER FOR PRESIDENT"
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