Boys Don't Cry

Directed by Kimberly Peirce
Starring: Hilary Swank, ChloŽ Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Jeanetta Arnette.
MPAA Rating: R for violence including an intense brutal rape scene, sexuality, language and drug use.

Review by Matt Heffernan
October 15, 1999

For an independent film to get any kind of distribution, it usually has to be really good. That's why it seems that most critics, including myself, think that independent films are altogether better than the output of Hollywood. That isn't at all true. About 99% of indies really suck, but nobody ever gets to see them, whereas nearly all studio films get nationally released. Probably only 70% of those films are unwatchable, which is a pretty good average. Those studios do have some degree of quality control. That filter certainly wouldn't have let this one flow through.

Teena Brandon (Hilary Swank) has a sexual identity crisis, so she decides to cut her hair and become Brandon Teena, in hopes of eventually having a sex change. "He" goes out to roller rinks and bars looking to pick up chicks, eventually meeting Candace (Alicia Goranson). She invites Brandon to take a ride back to her hometown with her friend, John (Peter Sarsgaard). In this little town, Brandon meets John's girfriend, Lana (ChloŽ Sevigny), and her mother (Jeanetta Arnette).

Brandon hangs around this little town in the middle of nowhere, despite having an impending court data back home. Teena was a thief, and was arrested for Grand Theft Auto, which doesn't seem to be a major offense in Lincoln, Nebraska. Brandon starts having a sexual relationship with Lana, with the facilitation of a concealed prosthesis. Of course, John isn't too thrilled to have his woman going with this odd little guy.

Gender-bending has been used before in theatre and film, from Shakespeare's As You Like It through 1985's Just One of the Guys. Instead of comedy, Boys Don't Cry presents us with what is supposed to be an emotional drama. Teena feels like a boy, not like a lesbian. A good film could be made out of this subject, but not this time. This was based on a true story, but that doesn't mean we have to sit through the most boring parts of that story. The film never seems to get moving until the end, where it turns ugly and shocking. Instead of redeeming the film, it just makes it more unpleasant, which causes the audience to question the purpose of watching it.

The performances of Swank and Sevigny were interesting. They could have taken these characters in a different direction, but this film was stuck in its story. There wasn't enough latitude to create anything above the level of a Movie of the Week. Perhaps making a feature film out of this story was just a bad idea.

Hollywood has actually been on a roll, producing quality work like American Beauty, Three Kings, and Fight Club. Amazingly enough, this week I would have to recommend going to the cineplex over the art house.


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Boys Don't Cry (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan