In death, Brandon Teena has become a symbol of the brutality of gay bashing and hate crimes. But in her stunning debut film, director Kimberly Peirce doesn’t canonize Teena as a transgendered martyr. Instead, she uses her clear-eyed humanism and a remarkable performance from Hilary Swank to bring Teena vibrantly and defiantly back to life.
There’s no escaping it – this real-life story is a textbook tragedy. Co-screenwriters Peirce and Andy Bienen chronicle the events leading up to this murder among friends, yet that’s not the whole story. Boys Don’t Cry is a captivating portrait of a natural-born charmer and unapologetically flawed young woman who convincingly presents herself to the world as a man.
The future looks as empty as the Nebraska flatlands for the young people who befriend Brandon Teena (Swank) in the rural county seat of Falls Church. They take Teena at face value, seeing a spirited, enthusiastic guy who’s always eager to please and ready to dive into the kind of mischief that passes for adventure when lives are defined by monotony and boredom.
In the dangerous charisma of the group’s leader, John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard), Teena finds a model for Midwestern machismo. In the laconic Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny), he discovers transcendence. Teena had girlfriends before – always carefully maintaining the masquerade – but Lana is different. She represents the transformative power of genuine true love.
The violent Lotter, feeling spurned by Lana, begins to look differently at his protégé, yet nothing quite prepares this close-knit group for the closely guarded secret of their golden boy.
How much of ourselves can we actually create? Brandon Teena might have answered, "quite a lot." Boys Don’t Cry is a reminder that even in a society obsessed with individuality and personal freedom, biology is still considered destiny.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.