Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Boys Don't Cry (1999)

The first mainstream picture focusing on a trans man is both a milestone and a tough watch

The Very Best



United States of America
Crime, Drama
Alicia Goranson, Alison Folland, Brendan Sexton III
118 min


Anything, anytime, anywhere, for Chloë Sevigny.

What it's about

A fictionalized version of the story of Brandon Teena, a trans man living in small-town Nebraska, who was a victim of a hate crime at the age of 21.

The take

Kimberly Peirce's first–out of only three—film was a smashing success, mostly due to her dedication to the subject matter. Peirce spent years researching the life and tragic death of Brandon Teena after reading an article about him in The Village Voice. She felt a particular kind of kinship as a queer person herself, and wanted to construct a story out of real facts that would put the spotlight on love and the desire for connection, and not that much on the violence which dominated the public discourse. In Falls City, Nebraska, the director conducted interviews with Lana Tisdale (Brandon's girlfriend) and her mother, while attending the ongoing trial. She took years to cast the lead and from hundreds of cis women, lesbians, and trans people, she chose the unknown actress Hilary Swank, who went on to win the Best Actress Academy Award (and the irony of that is not lost on us). The film features fantastic performances aplenty and very raw storytelling, visualized by neorealist style and low lighting. Direct references were the films of Martin Scorcese and John Cassavetes, but Boys Don't Cry has its own blend of beauty and cruelty to take pride in.

What stands out

Yes, then-unknown Hilary Swank won the Oscar for her performance as Brandon after going full method for a whole month (living like a man) while 22 herself, but it is Chloë Sevigny who now stands out the most. Sevigny auditioned for the lead role as well, but was found unconvincing—as a man—by director Kimberly Peirce, so she got the second most important part, that of Brandon's sweetheart, Lana. A woozy 19 year old, Lana is effortlessly charismatic, but with the seriousness of face bestowed on young people forced to grow up way too early. Fresh out of Last Days of Disco, Sevigny pivots to a more quiet, devoted, and tender role, for Lana and Brandon's love story sits at the heart of Boys Don't Cry: their impossible relationship that lasted merely two weeks illuminates the lesser known part of this tragic narrative and affirms the value of love in a touching last shot.


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