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Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

Film review: Boys Don’t Cry (1999), directed by Kimberly Peirce

Based on a true story about Brandon Teena, Boys Don’t Cry is about a young woman (Hilary Swank) who wants to be a man in early 1990s Nebraska. She doesn’t identify herself as a woman at all, and in fact prefers to call herself Brandon Teena, instead of Teena Brandon. So, (s)he dresses like a boy, wears her hair like a boy, and acts like a boy.

We follow Brandon through missed court dates and gathering information about getting a sex change, through him falling in love with a girl called Lana (Chloë Sevigny) … who, when she discovers Brandon isn’t as male as he has pretended to be, still wants him.

However, life is rarely that easy, especially not if you live in an area where gay people don’t just get harrassed, they actually get lynched … and it’s not a happy story.

Also starring Peter Sarsgaard as John Lotter, Brendan Sexton III as Tom Nissen, Alicia Goranson as Candace and Alison Folland as Kate.

The surprising thing about this film, for me, is how savage the anti-LGBT people were. Sure, it’s nearly 20 years ago now, but at the same time, it’s not the dark ages. And still, what Brandon has to go through is so, so sad. If he had lived in somewhere like New York, for instance, he probably wouldn’t have had much of a problem at all. Being in Redneck Town, though …

The less surprising thing is that Hilary Swank played the part really well. Won an Oscar. Strong performance, especially toward the end of the film – what happens is both brutal and shocking and emotionally devastating. We can only imagine what it must have been like for the character, if it leaves the audience disgusted and horrified.

On the other hand, this is not the sort of film I enjoy. Not when the main characters are, pardon the pun, dicks. No real owing up to what they’ve done – like refusing to keep the court dates – and not acting responsibly or at least rationally. No, they seem quite content with being down and out. Brandon’s great ambition? Owning a trailer park. Umm, yeah. Then again, we’re from two vastly different worlds. Apparently.

For a good part of this film, I wasn’t particularly drawn in. Didn’t like the characters, didn’t like the story, didn’t like most things, even though the actors were good. The script too, I suppose, just not my cup of tea. Too miserable. Or rather, too busy being miserable to do anything about it. And then, of course, the film meanders into its terrifying climax and it’s like being hit right in the stomach. Unpleasant. Particularly if you’re a woman, I hesitate to say. Nightmare stuff.

If you like this sort of film, about social hardship in modern times, you’ll probably love Boys Don’t Cry. If you don’t, then you probably won’t, but on the other hand, it’s a good talking point, if nothing else. And it made Hilary Swank’s career.

3 out of 5 strap-ons.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel, when there's not a plague on. Might get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted along the way.

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