×

Boys Don’t Cry

Though six years have passed since the brutal rape and murder of Teena Brandon, the complex protagonist of "Boys Don't Cry," the story has grown only more compelling and relevant. This devastatingly powerful tale of a young girl who disguised herself as a boy is anchored by two fully realized performances, by Hilary Swank as the sexual misfit and Chloe Sevigny as her sensitive girlfriend.

With:
Brandon Teena - Hilary Swank Lana - Chloe Sevigny John - Peter Sarsgaard Tom - Brendan Sexton III Kate - Alison Folland Candace - Alicia Goranson Lonny - Matt McGrath Brian - Rob Campbell Lana's Mom - Jeannetta Arnette

Though six years have passed since the brutal rape and murder of Teena Brandon, the complex protagonist of Kimberly Peirce’s superlative dramatic feature “Boys Don’t Cry,” the story has grown only more compelling and relevant. This devastatingly powerful tale of a young girl who disguised herself as a boy is anchored by two fully realized performances, by Hilary Swank as the sexual misfit and Chloe Sevigny as her sensitive girlfriend. Audacious, accomplished pic should play well with open minded viewers seeking edgy, mature fare. Fox Searchlight release could become one of the most talked about indies of the year, although a major marketing challenge rests in pushing it beyond the urban specialized niche to reach young and sophisticated viewers generally when it opens in October.

The film’s richly dense narrative touches on many controversial and timely issues — the nature of sexual identity, biology vs. sociology in gender construction, role playing in modern life — as well as offering a perceptive anatomy of homophobia and intolerance in the American heartland. Bold and for the most part uncompromising, “Boys” reps a breath of fresh air at a time when most American indies have gotten too soft and too close to the mainstream.

Mixing fiction and nonfiction elements freely but astutely in relating the life of Brandon Teena (nee Teena Brandon) — who was the subject of a 1998 documentary, “The Brandon Teena Story” — Peirce and Andy Bienen’s multilayered script is inspired by the literary journalism of Truman Capote (“In Cold Blood”) and Norman Mailer (“The Executioner’s Song”), and by such uniquely American crimers as “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Badlands,” rural sagas that viewed their subjects from a chillingly detached perspective.

At the most obvious level, “Boys Don’t Cry” tells a tender love story between two outcasts who are stuck in crude and stifling surroundings. It’s a tribute to the filmmakers’ intelligence that they don’t offer simplistic psychological explanations for the “bizarre and deviant” conduct of Brandon Teena. Nor do they mythologize her.

Set in 1993, story begins in Lincoln, Neb., with the 20-year-old Brandon (Swank) getting a boyish haircut and preparing for a night out, dressed in blue jeans, flannel shirt and boots. Though warned by cousin Lonny (Matt McGrath) that “his” behavior signals big trouble and “folks in Falls City kill fags,” Brandon insists that her life — now his life — is on the right track.

Brandon arrives in Falls City as a bright newcomer who enchants all those who meet him. Soon he establishes himself as a playful rebel, a sensitive and loyal friend and an irresistible romantic who seduces lonely, innocent and underprivileged beauties. At a local bar, Brandon befriends Candace (Alicia Goranson), a young single mom who invites him to move into her place. But as soon as he lays his eyes on the sexually appealing Lana (Sevigny), it’s love at first sight.

First reel unfolds as a series of rites of passage, with Brandon making every effort to be accepted by a group of men (all ex cons) headed by the macho John (Peter Sarsgaard), who’s the lover of Lana’s mom (Jeannetta Arnette) and infatuated with Lana, and his younger, brutish companion Tom (Brendan Sexton III). The clique, which functions as a fractured extended family, spends its time boozing, smoking and partying.

The sharp writing and nuanced acting pull the viewer into this tale of the double life of a fun loving heartbreaker. In several revealing scenes, Peirce documents what it means — and what it physically takes — to be dressed and behave as a boy while trapped in a woman’s body.

Second act centers on the tender love relationship that evolves between Brandon and Lana: their first date, initial kiss and outdoor lovemaking, which is crosscut with Lana recounting the experience to her curious friends. It is in these sequences that the neophyte Peirce reveals herself to be a deft helmer of emotionally complex and tension ridden situations.

Turning point occurs when Brandon is thrown into the women’s section of the local jail for cumulative traffic offenses and Lana comes to visit him. Confronted, Brandon contends that he’s a case of “sexual identity crisis,” born with some male and some female parts. With total understanding and unshattered belief, Lana continues the affair, which leads to a big party for Brandon’s 21st birthday at her house.

Midsection is repetitive and plods a bit (a few minutes of cutting would be beneficial), but last reel is extremely powerful in chronicling the rednecks’ reaction when a local newspaper breaks Brandon’s story. In a brutally harsh series of events, John and Tom strip, beat and rape Brandon. Last act, depicting Brandon’s murder in a ramshackle farmhouse, is almost too painful to watch.

Stunningly accomplished in every department, this first film boasts sharp cinematography by Jim Denault and flawless acting by the ensemble, with the two young leads contributing their best perfs to date and Sarsgaard, Sexton and Arnette also impressing strongly.

The poignant and candid “Boys Don’t Cry” can be seen as a “Rebel Without a Cause” for these culturally diverse and complex times, with the two misfit girls enacting a version of the James Dean – Natalie Wood romance with utmost conviction, searching, like their ’50s counterparts, for love, self-worth and a place to call home.

Popular on Variety

Boys Don't Cry

Production: A Fox Searchlight release, in association with the Independent Film Channel, of a Killer Films/Hart Sharp production. Produced by Jeffrey Sharp, John Hart, Eva Kolodner, Christine Vachon. Executive producers, Pamela Koffler, Jonathan Sehring, Caroline Kaplan, John Sloss. Co producer, Morton Swinsky. Directed by Kimberly Peirce. Screenplay, Peirce, Andy Bienen.

With: Brandon Teena - Hilary Swank Lana - Chloe Sevigny John - Peter Sarsgaard Tom - Brendan Sexton III Kate - Alison Folland Candace - Alicia Goranson Lonny - Matt McGrath Brian - Rob Campbell Lana's Mom - Jeannetta Arnette

More Film

  • Samuel-W.-Gelfman

    Samuel Gelfman, Roger Corman Film Producer, Dies at 88

    Samuel Gelfman, a New York producer known for his work on Roger Corman’s “Caged Heat,” “Cockfighter” and “Cannonball!,” died Thursday morning at UCLA Hospital in Westwood following complications from heart and respiratory disease, his son Peter Gelfman confirmed. He was 88. Gelfman was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised in Caldwell New Jersey [...]

  • Margot Robbie stars in ONCE UPON

    Box Office: 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Pulls Ahead of 'Hobbs & Shaw' Overseas

    Sony’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might not have hit No. 1 in North America, but Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is leading the way at the international box office, where it collected $53.7 million from 46 markets. That marks the best foreign opening of Tarantino’s career, coming in ahead of 2012’s “Django Unchained.” “Once [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Leads Crowded Weekend With $21 Million

    The Bean Bag Boys, the self-appointed nickname for the trio of best friends in Universal’s “Good Boys,” are conquering much more than sixth grade. They are also leading the domestic box office, exceeding expectations and collecting $21 million on opening weekend. “Good Boys,” which screened at 3,204 North American theaters, is a much-needed win for [...]

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content