Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

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If you can get past the improbability that transgendered Hilary Swank could go on months without anyone suspecting ‘he’ was a ‘she,’ this is an effective and powerful movie. Brandon Teena, the protagonist of this movie. does have a boyish charm regardless of his biological gender, and he struts into town and befriends some shady types after having a few run in with the law in different locations. The thing is, Brandon’s not a bad kid, just a little misguided, and after he begins a romantic affair with shady type #1’s love interest., there are a series of confrontations that finally, and perhaps inevitably, lead to tragedy.

Lana (Chloe Sevigny) is the love interest. John Lotter (i.e. Shady Type #1, played by Peter Skarsgaard) is her possessive admirer. John is tailed by Shady Type #2 Tom (Brendon Sexton III,) a troubled young man who is a bit of an idiot (not developmentally disabled, you see, just not all there upstairs.) John is the ringleader, and Brandon falls for the social experience that comes with hanging with them a bit too easily.

On the way to sympathizing with Brandon, I had a little trouble getting past the fact that he tricked girls into having sex with him (ditzy girls who couldn’t tell the difference between a girl with a strap-on and a man with a penis, but still.) I’m certainly not implying Brandon deserved the things that happened to him at the films conclusion, far from it, But it was still an unfair thing to do to your sex partners. You will also facepalm at Brandon’s Naivete and the things he does to gain acceptance.

Everything changes with Lana. Lana falls so madly head-over-heels in love with Brandon that she doesn’t care what gender Brandon is. It”s actually kind of romantic, actually. I didn’t like Lana at first because I thought she was an ineffectual sloppy drunk hick, but she ended up being my favorite character. She’s a romantic soul stuck in a shitty Nebraska town, and all the men around her are vile pigs. In hindsight, why wouldn’t she fall for the handsome Brandon?

I heard the director of this, Kimberly Pierce, discuss the MPAA’s attempt to slap it with an NC-17 rating in the documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated.” According to Pierce, their biggest qualm was not the violent and degrading events at the end of the film, but the ‘long orgasm’ scene where Brandon goes down on Lana. “Who was ever hurt by an orgasm that was too long?” demands Pierce. People sure have funny priorities, especially when they involve homosexuality and sex.

“Boys Don’t Cry” is sad but not needlessly so. Based upon the real-life 1993 rape/murder of Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena, a transgendered youth who identified as male but had female reproductive organs, the film benefits from a great performance from Hilary Swank. I weirdly have never noticed Swank before, but she now takes on a role too raw and subversive for many female actors.

Instead of being tawdry and sensationalistic, “Boys Don’t Cry tells a horrible story poignantly, but celebrates Brandon Teena’s life and spirit as well as grieve his loss. Kimberly Pierce movingly and  depicts the transgendered experience, and we should be grateful for her candor. A worthwhile story. profoundly told.

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