Sep 18, 2014

Review: Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Before watching Boys Don't Cry, I did not know that it was based on a true story. Literally no idea. I took a quick look at the IMDb entry before watching it but didn't see the biography genre attached to it. So when the ending credits started rolling and the disclaimer about what happened to the characters' real life counterparts was shown, it was a pretty big shock. Understandably there was a lot of hoopla surrounding the case of Brandon Teena which dates back to 1993. There's no doubt that there was a story to tell there.

Director Kimberly Peirce apparently became interested in Brandon Teena during her college days and worked on a script for around five years. She actually made a short of the story in 1995 as her thesis but sadly I can't find it anywhere. For a story about a transgender main character, you can imagine the difficulty in finding a good actress for the role. Peirce wanted to avoid any known actresses and anyway, known actresses wouldn't want anything to do with such a controversial role. She went looking for suitable actresses in the LGBT community which was unsuccessful. After one hundred actresses were rejected, Peirce just happened to receive a tape from an unknown Hilary Swank. The rest is history


Genre: biography, drama
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce
Produced by: John Hart, Eva Kolodner, Jeff Sharp, etc.
Written by: Kimberly Peirce, Andy Bienen
Music by: Nathan Larson
Running time: 118 minutes
Production company: Fox Searchlight Pictures, The Independent Film Channel Productions, Killer Films, etc.
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures, 20th Century Fox, FS Film, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $2,000,000
Box office: $11,540,607 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Hilary Swank, Chloë Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Brendan Sexton III, Alicia Goranson, Alison Folland, Jeannetta Arnette, Rob Campbell, Matt McGrath, Cheyenne Rushing



Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) is a transgender youth who's original name is Teena Ray Brandon. He lives with his cousin Lonny (Matt McGrath) in a trailer and tries to make his way in the world. He runs into legal problems however and also has to deal with a lot of intolerance regarding his gender and sexuality. Brandon happens to make friends with John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom Nissen (Brendan Sexton III) who take him back to their trailer park in Falls City. Moving there full time, this is an escape for Brandon and he couldn't be happier.


The first and extremely obvious thing to say about Boys Don't Cry is just how good the acting is. Hilary Swank won on Oscar for Best Actress and it's no surprise why. Her portrayal of Brandon Teena is completely convincing. You feel Brandon's happiness and his pain flawlessly through Hilary Swank. Chloë Sevigny as Brandon's lover is also really great and she was nominated for an Oscar as well in the Best Supporting Actress category. She didn't win but she's unbelievable to watch too.

I also want to give a big shout out to Peter Sarsgaard. I already know what he's capable of but he gives another great performance in what is one of his earlier roles. His character is an ex-con and he's quick to fly off the handle in absolute rage. He's charismatic and seems like a pretty likeable guy but I was pretty much terrified of his character the whole time. 

The script of Boys Don't Cry really does a good job at developing its main characters. We learn all about Brandon Teena but I really like the direction that they go in to explore his character. It's not all about trying to get his sex change, it boils down to his freedom. It'd be an easy way out to just exploit the sex change angle but that's not what Kimberly Peirce and Andy Bienen do. Brandon is a rich character and everyone around him is also full of depth.

Although it was filmed on a $2 million budget, it doesn't look or feel it. The trailer park scene is expertly captured and I can certainly see why Brandon dreams of leaving and going to Memphis. It's nighttime for the most part with lots of driving on lonely high ways that is all very nicely filmed. Apparently, Kimberly Peirce drew from a lot of past movies like The Wizard of Oz, Raging Bull and Bonnie and Clyde. All put together and you can see that it's an inspired piece of film making.

Boys Don't Cry is not the kind of movie you relax with a beer and watch with your extended family. It's graphic, haunting but strangely enough it's hopeful in a way. (Spoilers) The double rape scene is unbelievably disturbing and I admire the three actors involved for having been able to get through it. (End Spoilers) I know that the real Lana Tisdel who is played by Chloë Sevigny doesn't like this film at all for its inaccuracy, but that doesn't mean that Boys Don't Cry isn't an amazing film. Because it is and I won't be forgetting it soon.



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