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Boys Don't Cry   A

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Writers: Kimberly Peirce, Andy Bienen
Cast: Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Brendan Sexton III, Alison Folland, Alicia Goranson, Matt McGrath, Rob Campbell, Jeanetta Arnette.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Leaving the theater after seeing Boys Don't Cry for the first time, I was so stunned that I could hardly walk straight. The emotional impact of the ending hit me so hard that I felt its repercussions hours afterward, and I couldn't stop thinking about the movie and the characters for days. The fact that it's based on a true story makes it even more shattering.

In 1993, in the heartland of Lincoln, Nebraska, Teena Brandon decided she wanted to be a man. She cut her hair short, taped her breasts back, put a strategically placed sock down the front of her pants, and switched her name around to Brandon Teena. That's what he was known as for the remainder of his life -- until he was murdered later that year at the age of 21.

There's an upbeat energy the drives the first act of Boys Don't Cry. Brandon goes to the roller skating rink and charms a pretty girl into making out with him, and it seems like harmless con-artist fun. Soon Brandon is getting into barroom brawls over girls (he's scrawny, but he doesn't back down from a fight), and he eventually makes some new friends who live in Falls City nearby. If only he knew that some of these "friends" would eventually be responsible for his murder when his secret gets out.

In the role that won her both an Oscar and a Golden Globe, Hilary Swank's Brandon looks like a skinnier Matt Damon, and her performance here is unforgettable. After Brandon is raped, he is interrogated by police -- this scene I still can't shake from mind because of its wrenching power -- and Hilary Swank nails every emotional note. The dialogue in this scene may seem a bit harsh (maybe even implausible), but it's taken word for word from the taped real-life interrogation.

At the heart of Boys Don't Cry is the love story between Brandon and a girl from a white-trash background named Lana, who is beautifully played by the Oscar-nominated Chloe Sevigny. Lana has been abused in the past, and Brandon is more sensitive and understanding to her than any real man ever has been. In a mythic kind of way, the story becomes a striking modern take on Romeo and Juliet, but the tragedy here actually happened.

All the supporting actors are first-rate, and a particular mention must go to Peter Sarsgaard, who plays an ex-con who's literally a time bomb waiting to go off. At first, you'll like the guy and feel sympathy for him -- you see how his environment could have made him this way. Sarsgaard has an intensity that's electrifying. Brendan Sexton III (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Hurricane Streets) plays his equally unhinged buddy.

First-time feature director Kimberly Peirce gives Boys Don't Cry a gritty realism that few films can match. Peirce did years of research to find the story behind Brandon Teena's murder, and what emerged is stunning. The movie comes to its violent climax in one of the most emotionally devastating endings I've ever seen. No kidding.

With this film, the story of Brandon Teena won't just be the stuff of old newspaper clippings. Boys Don't Cry was one of the best films of 1999, and his memory isn't about to fade any time soon.

Review published 04.21.2000.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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