Brandon Teena is Miss-understood
I've watched "Boys Don't Cry" twice now, the first time the only thing I knew was it was based on a true story, the second time I knew the true story having been fascinated by this stunning, emotional and disturbing movie. Both times "Boys Don't Cry" never stopped impressing me, be it the first time when I was taken on this emotional ride where I felt disgust, acceptance, shock and so much more whilst the second time I couldn't stop being impressed by how director Kimberly Peirce handled such a powerfully emotive subject. And as such whether you know the true story of Brandon Teena or not I am going to do something I don't often do and that is urge you to watch "Boys Don't Cry" whether it is your usual sort of viewing or not because this is a movie which not so much challenges your feelings but brings your true feelings out without you knowing it.
Having grown up in the town of Lincoln Teena Brandon has her hair cut short, stuffs a sock down her pants and goes out on the town as Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank - The Next Karate Kid) a young man, it's what she wants, to live life as a man. But hounded out of Lincoln, Brandon finds himself in Fall City where he makes friends with Candace (Alicia Goranson), John (Peter Sarsgaard - Jarhead), Tommy (Brendan Sexton III) and Lana (Chloė Sevigny - Zodiac), in fact he makes more than just friends with Lana as they become romantically involved. He feels accepted in Fall City where no one knows the truth but unfortunately for Brandon the truth doesn't remain hidden.
The best way to describe "Boys Don't Cry" is to say that this is a story which will take you on an emotional journey and one which for me challenged my feelings straight away. We meet Teena Brandon as she has her hair cut short and hits the town as a man Brandon Teena, it almost feels a bit of laugh but only fleetingly as you then watch Brandon flirt with a young girl at a roller skating rink and before the night is out not only are they kissing but Brandon is being chased by angry relatives who know that he is a she. I will be honest I initially felt disgust, I felt like whilst Brandon hadn't maliciously gone out to seduce a girl I couldn't but help feel it was wrong that he did so without any qualms. I didn't agree with the hoarding angry relatives chasing him down but I thought this isn't right.
But here is the thing as the story grows and we watch Brandon ending up living life as a young man in the small town of Falls City where no one knows the truth we watch as he falls in love with Lana and she ends up falling in love with him and before you know it you are no longer thinking of Brandon as a woman trying to be a man, you have accepted it. You not only accept it but you also stop judging him because we get to understand what has caused Teena to become Brandon how desperate she is to live life as a man. In fact you warm to the friendship and relationship which forms between Brandon and Lana as they are good for each other yet at the same time you wonder whether Lana knows.
If that wasn't enough having gone from judging to accepting "Boys Don't Cry" then gets you sympathising with Brandon when the inevitable truth comes out. You feel for Brandon as he is not only desperate to fit in but is basically a good kid. And when the proverbial shit hits the fan as his two male friends John and Tom learn that Brandon is in fact Teena you can't stop yourself from sympathising as the brutal treatment he receives not only from them but from those who should know better is both disgusting and disturbing. By the time "Boys Don't Cry" ends and it most certainly doesn't end on a whimper you have run the gamete of emotions as you go from judgement to acceptance to sympathising.
With out going into too many details "Boys Don't Cry" is a shocking movie on so many levels and one which not only shocks you mentally but also visually. I can't sing the praises of director Kimberly Pierce enough for not softening the blow of this movie be it in the very visual sex scenes or in the violence and humiliation which Brandon suffers. In lesser hands "Boys Don't Cry" could have ended up exploitative and little more than titillation especially when it comes to the nudity but not once does it come across like this, the visually shocking scenes are dramatic and emotionally powerful drawing us in to feel what Brandon felt be it joy or pain.
And it is not just Pierce who does an amazing job as Hilary Swank in what is undeniably one demanding role is stunning. This is one of those performances where you have an actress not just acting but becoming the character, feeling what the character felt and through this total conviction allows us to feel it to. It's because Swank is convincing as a Brandon that you can accept why she wanted to live life as a man and also sympathise with her when things turn bad.
Swank is not the only outstanding performance and to be frank there is not a bad performance in the movie be it Peter Sarsgaard who plays John through to Matt McGrath who plays Brandon's cousin Lonny. But alongside Swank there is another standout performance and that is Chloė Sevigny as Lana because again this isn't a performance this is an actor becoming a character. And because of this you not only feel for Chloė as she struggles with her life in the dead end Falls City but also feel her excitement at falling in love with Brandon as well as her acceptance of him. It's such a good performance that you are not initially sure whether Lana knows the truth or not and when she is in denial it is just magnificent.
What this all boils down to is that "Boys Don't Cry" is a stunning movie and one which I recommend watching. This is not easy viewing, it is a disturbing story even more disturbing when you know it's based on a true story but never is this shocking story either exploitative or purely titillation. This is a movie which takes you on an emotional rollercoaster ride challenging your feelings as it takes you from judgement to acceptance through to sympathy and disgust, shocking you on so many different levels.