BOYS DON'T CRY (1999) 

Hilary Swank
Chloe Sevigny
Peter Sarsgaard
Brendan Sexton III
Alicia Goranson
Alison Follard
Jeanetta Arnette
Rob Campbell

Kimberly Peirce



Time: 118 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Romance/Drama

Won Academy Award for Best Actress (Swank). Nomination for Best Supporting Actress (Sevigny).

Swank's powerfully charming and ultimately tragic performance as a young sexually-confused drifter will have your eyes glued to the screen and your heart pounding with sorrow. The bitter end to this story makes it a tough one to enjoy, but up until things start to go horribly wrong for Brandon/Teena, it's a tale about finding love, acceptance and a place to call home. This is a portrait of middle, rural America that will make your hair stand on end. The hopelessness and boredom of living in a small town with no future breeds a dangerous mix of anger, recklessness and frustration. Brandon's unique energy and honest emotions brings joy and happiness to the lives of all his new friends, giving them hope of a better life. His deception tears at the fabric of what they knew to be true and good and ultimately costs him his life. He even fooled himself, believing that just because he thought of himself as a man, everyone else would overlook the obvious and accept his reality.

Unfortunately for him, Brandon/Teena picked a bad place to come out of the closet. He believed he was a man trapped in a girl's body, not a lesbian, but those distinctions are lost on career criminals whose manhood has been compromised. When a girl steals your woman by being a better man than you, there's gonna be trouble. When Brandon arrives in Falls City, Nebraska, he's just looking to forget his problems and start fresh. He's misunderstood in his hometown, which has led to a few run-ins with the law. Even his family can't understand why he pretends to be a boy. Brandon doesn't know why either, but he's compelled to put on this charade and he's quite good at it. It's not hard to pick up lonely, young girls looking for a decent guy to call their own. Most of the men they deal with would just as soon smack them as kiss them. Brandon and Candace (Goranson) hit it off immediately. Mostly because he makes her feel special, pretty and worth talking to. Her friends, John (Sarsgaard) and Tom (Sexton) tease her new friend about his taste in women, but are also charmed by Brandon's easy-going nature.

"I don't want IT in my house."

He quickly becomes one of their gang. However, it takes more than a few shared drinks to win over Lana (Sevigny), the beauty of the group. She's the light everyone flocks to and Brandon is no exception. She doesn't think much of him at first, but his talk of seeing the world – if only California and Graceland – and his protective ways soon have her looking at him differently. His handsome face, gentle hands and adoring eyes convince her she's finally found her savior. No man has ever brought her to such sexual heights and her desire soon matches Brandon's own. They try to keep their burgeoning love a secret because John is the jealous sort. Lana wants nothing to do with him, especially as a lover, but her desires mean nothing to John. He's a man who takes what he wants and is growing tired of waiting for Lana to reciprocate his feelings. He's posted himself as her protector, until she comes to her senses. Even Candace is envious, she saw Brandon first, but doesn't hold a grudge against the couple. Someone should be happy. Unfortunately the peace is short-lived. Brandon's past criminal transgressions come home to roost, sending his perfect new life into a hellish tailspin. Lana is the only one who stands by him, mostly out of love, but mainly because she doesn't want to believe her new man is actually a woman.

His "friends" are less than pleased at his betrayal and aren't about to let him corrupt one of their own. Despite her confusion, Lana continues to trust Brandon. He's her last hope out of this dead-end world. Her desire for Brandon disgusts John and Tom, who take matters into their own hands to prove to Lana that Brandon is a liar and is no more a man than she is. Horrified by the truth, they strip Brandon of his illusion – in a brutal, vicious and horrifying way – by proving he's all woman. The women in their life may not be happy about Brandon's lies, but the subsequent behavior of John and Tom is utterly reprehensible, leaving them with few options. Brandon doesn't have many either. He's found happiness here, despite the recent trauma, and he's not going to leave without Lana. It's a cruel and bitter end for a confused young man/woman just looking for a soft place to land. At least he got the chance to experience true love, if only for a short time. Maybe he would have been better off if he'd been locked away, like his mother wished. At least, he'd probably still be alive. Though I doubt Brandon would agree. He made his choices, most were poor at best, but at least he got to live his life as he wanted. Not many of us get that chance, to be able to be true to our inner selves. Hell of a price to pay, though.

It's hard to believe this is Peirce's first major directorial effort. She cuts through the sensationalism of this story to present an honest, heartbreaking love story with a horribly brutal outcome. Brandon isn't your typical hero and it must have been a difficult task to make him/her into a compelling human being, instead of the town freak. She keeps the story and camera work simple, forcing the focus on the developing relationships between the characters. Much of the kudos, of course, must go to Swank's ballsy (forgive the pun), all-out performance as this confused young woman. She is so convincing as Brandon, that the blatant reveal of her actual sexuality is as much a shock to the audience as it is to Lana. I knew she was a girl, but even I expected to see something below the belt a la THE CRYING GAME. The physical exposure is just as horrifying for her as it is for them. No one in that room wanted to believe the truth, least of all Brandon. It's almost tougher to watch that scene than the ones that follow, that make it all too clear. She's never experienced sex with a man and this is a hell of an introduction. Brandon's denial of the rape is painful in the extreme. How could that happen when he's a boy? What's amazing is we're left wondering the same thing.

Sevigny is equally brilliant as the sexually and emotionally re-awakened Lana. Brandon's love brings her out of the haze of boredom, drugs and alcohol where she's spent most of her days. Hope for the future makes her even more attractive, giving her something to live for. There's a spark behind Sevigny's eyes that reflects her growing dreams and it breaks your heart, because you know they're not going to come true. Lana's love and confusion is captured perfectly. She can't resist Brandon – he opens her mind, body and soul to new possibilities – but what does it say about her if she's in love with a girl? Brandon's untimely death makes that question unanswerable. Her behavior at the end shows it was one she was not really ready to fully face. If rural America is anything like it's portrayed here, I'll take my chances in the big city. The emptiness and ignorance is enough to make one cry. Why people just don't leave such dead end places I'll never know. Especially if ex-cons are your best hope for friends. Definitely not a place for sexual non-conformists. Tolerance is talked about, but rarely practiced, if one can get away with it.

Sarsgaard and Sexton may play actual people, but they represent an aspect of society that's more prevalent than most of us want to believe. Thankfully, the men they play are behind bars, but look how far they had to go to get there. What makes this film so good is that we should look at them as monsters, but with subtle turns by both actors, you can't help but feel a little sorry for them. The shock was too much for their minds to bear. Control over their small domain is the only thing that kept them sane. Brandon exposed their utter worthlessness, as sexual beings and as protectors. They had nothing left to lose and someone had to pay for their sorry-ass lives. Sarsgaard makes John sympathetic and scary all at the same time. The threat of violence is constantly under the surface ready to burst out. How anyone could be friends with him is beyond me. He made me edgy from inside a TV screen and that's no easy feat. The story plays like a modern day Romeo & Juliet, with the lovers besieged on all sides with no where to turn but to each other. Unfortunately it ends the same way. Yet due to the lovely work of Swank and Sevigny, you leave the proceedings with a touch of joy for the love that their characters shared. BOYS DON'T CRY is a sweet, small film about seriously dark issues. Well worth the time spent, but not a day at the park. Proceed with caution. It earns it's R-rating.

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