Review: Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

Boys Don’t Cry
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce
Starring: Hilary Swank, Chloë Sevigny, and Peter Sarsgaard
Genre: Biopic / Drama
Released: October 1999 by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Running time: 118 mins (1 hr, 58 mins)
Rated: 18 (UK) R (USA)
Rating: ★★★★★

IMDb | View Trailer

Based on actual events. Brandon Teena is the popular new guy in a tiny Nebraska town. He hangs out with the guys, drinking, cussing, and bumper surfing, and he charms the young women, who’ve never met a more sensitive and considerate young man. Life is good for Brandon, now that he’s one of the guys and dating hometown beauty Lana. However, he’s forgotten to mention one important detail. It’s not that he’s wanted in another town for GTA and other assorted crimes, but that Brandon Teena was actually born a woman named Teena Brandon. When his best friends make this discovery, Brandon’s life is ripped apart.

Re-watched for Review

I’ve actually seen Boys Don’t Cry before (around about last year) and it’s still had a lasting impression on me all this time. I can’t remember where exactly I came across it, but I’m glad that I did because this film is definitely one that I would recommend to people looking for films that address transgender issues. And although it got hard to watch at one point, I really enjoyed watching this film for a second time.

Boys Don’t Cry is the true story of Brandon Teena (born Teena Brandon), a transman from Nebraska, who moves to a new town and enters a new circle of friends. Things are going incredibly well, until it is revealed that he is biologically female. The way that this film made me feel is quite strange. In the beginning, I was glad that Brandon had found these people who like him for who he is (even though he does construct a completely new identity), but then we get to one particular scene and I felt incredibly uncomfortable. More uncomfortable than I felt the first time I watched it. After that moment, I then had feelings of resent for the majority of the characters, because their actions just sickened me. How much of the true story was changed or removed I don’t actually know, but from what I’ve researched, the film manages to stay very close to the true story, which isn’t any less horrific.

For her performance as Brandon, Hilary Swank won her first Oscar and I definitely think that she deserved it. She committed to the role and managed to completely disappear into Brandon’s character, which helped her to give an incredibly powerful performance. What makes the end of the film so sad and powerful is the fact that we’re always with Brandon and he’s a lovable person from the second that he’s introduced. He doesn’t have a single bad bone in his body and tries to stay out of trouble as much as he can. He would be the perfect best friend, so when it came to the end, I pretty much felt like I had actually lost a friend. As with every single biopic that I’ve ever seen, I don’t know about the real people, but I can say that the film’s terrific cast all gave awesome performances that showed that the people in the film were real, and not as if they were playing characters.

In terms of visuals, Boys Don’t Cry is shot in a pretty stylish way for a biopic. There are often mentions of dreams and aspirations, which are accompanied by shots of lights and night roads, and the film tends to have an overall dream-like appearance at times, which looks really pretty and reassuring. Even though I’ve now seen this film twice, the way the film looks made me think that maybe it would turn out differently this time. It didn’t. Apart from having a dream-like look, the film can also look like a nightmare, as shown in that one scene that made me uncomfortable. The scene cuts back and forth and the audio plays atop of another shot, which is quite horrific to sit through.

Boys Don’t Cry is a lot of things: it’s sad, it’s disturbing, but most of all, this is an important film. I know that I’ve said that a lot this month, but I think that things that deal with gender identity issues are the most important because gender can sometimes be a hard concept to grasp (a lot of social justice bloggers on Tumblr think that it’s easy to understand, but it is actually pretty complicated when you go into specifics). I still remember the way this film made me feel the first time I watched it, and that feeling definitely hasn’t gone away.

1 Comment

  1. 18/04/2014 / 11:51 AM

    Awesome review, Louise! I've heard of this before, but I've never seen it. It sounds amazing! Really should make an effort to watch it. Thanks for putting it back on my radar! 🙂

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