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Boys Don't Cry (film)

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Boys Don't Cry
Boys Don't Cry movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Kimberly Peirce
Produced by Christine Vachon
Eva Kolodner
Written by Kimberly Peirce
Andy Bienen
Starring Hilary Swank
Chloë Sevigny
Peter Sarsgaard
Brendan Sexton III
Alicia Goranson
Jeanetta Arnette
Matt McGrath
Music by Nathan Larson
Cinematography Jim Denault
Edited by Tracy Granger
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release dates
  • October 8, 1999 (1999-10-08)
Running time
118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2 million
Box office $11,540,607

Boys Don't Cry is a 1999 American independent romantic drama film directed by Kimberly Peirce and co-written by Andy Bienen. The film is a dramatization of the real-life story of Brandon Teena, a trans man played in the film by Hilary Swank, who is beaten, raped and murdered by his male acquaintances after they discover he is transgender. The film explores the themes of freedom, courage, identity and empowerment. Despite being largely an independent production, Boys Don't Cry was distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures and was released theatrically in October 1999.

After reading about the murder of Brandon Teena while in college, Peirce intently researched the case—as well as Teena's life—and worked on a screenplay for the film for almost five years. All She Wanted, the 1996 book about the case written by Aphrodite Jones, inspired Peirce, but she chose to focus the story on the relationship between Brandon and his girlfriend Lana Tisdel. Many actors campaigned for the lead over the course of three years; a then unknown Swank was cast because her personality seemed similar to Teena's. The film also stars Chloë Sevigny as Brandon's love interest Lana and Peter Sarsgaard as John Lotter. The majority of characters were based on real-life people, while some were composites. Shooting lasted from October until November 1998 and filming took place in the Dallas, Texas area.

Boys Don't Cry premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 8, 1999 to overwhelmingly positive acclaim from critics and was widely cited as one of the best films of the year.[1][2] Praise was specifically focused on the two lead performances by Swank and Sevigny. The film received a limited nationwide release on October 22, 1999, and performed moderately well at the North American box office. At the 72nd Academy Awards in 2000, Swank was awarded an Oscar for Best Actress and Sevigny was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The film, which dealt with controversial issues,[3] was initially assigned an NC-17 rating but was later modified to an R rating. The release of the film was concurrent with the murder of a young gay man, Matthew Shepard, which sparked additional public interest in discriminatory behaviour and violence towards the LGBT community.[4] The film was named after the song of the same name by The Cure, and a cover version of the song appears in the film at one point.


Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) is a young female-to-male non-operative transgender man, whose birth name was Teena Renae Brandon.[5] When Brandon is discovered to be transgender by the brother of a former girlfriend, he becomes the target of physical threats. Not long after, he is involved in a bar fight and is evicted from his cousin's trailer. Brandon moves to Falls City, Nebraska, where he cultivates friendships with ex-convicts John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom Nissen (Brendan Sexton III), and their friends Candace (Alicia Goranson) and Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny). Brandon becomes romantically involved with Lana, who is unaware of his biological sex and troubled past. The two make plans to move to Memphis, where Brandon will manage Lana in a karaoke career.

Brandon is detained for charges that arose prior to his relocation and placed in the women's section of the Falls City prison. Lana bails Brandon out. After Lana asks why Brandon was in a women's prison, Brandon lies to her, saying he was born a hermaphrodite and will soon receive a sex change. Lana declares her love for Brandon, "no matter what he is". Tom and John become suspicious after they read a newspaper article about Brandon that refers to him by his birth name, Teena Brandon. Tom and John force Brandon to remove his pants, revealing his genitals. They try to make Lana look, but she shields her eyes and turns away. After this confrontation Tom and John drag Brandon into John's car and drive out to an isolated location, where they violently beat and rape him. Afterward, they take Brandon to Tom's house. Though injured, Brandon escapes through a bathroom window. Having been threatened by his assailants and told not to report the attack to the police, a distressed Brandon is nonetheless convinced by Lana to file a report.

One evening, John and Tom get drunk, and decide to kill Brandon. Despite Lana's attempts to stop them, John and Tom drive to Candace's remote house where they find Brandon, who has been hiding in a shed on Candace's property. John shoots Brandon under the chin, and Tom shoots Candace in the head while Lana fights them and screams for them to stop. Tom stabs Brandon's lifeless body and then he attempts to shoot Lana, but is stopped by John. John and Tom flee the scene, while Lana lies with Brandon's dead body.

The next morning, Lana wakes up on Brandon's dead body. Her mother arrives and takes an emotionally wrenched Lana away from the scene. The film ends with Lana leaving Falls City while a letter Brandon wrote to her is read in a voice-over.




Brandon Teena was a trans man who was raped and murdered by two male acquaintances in December 1993, when he was 21.[nb 1][6][7] Kimberly Peirce, at the time a Columbia University film student, became interested in the case after reading a 1994 Village Voice article by Donna Minkowitz.[8][9] Peirce became engrossed in Brandon's life and death and recalls, "the minute I read about Brandon, I fell in love. With the intensity of his desire to turn himself into a boy, the fact that he did it with no role models. The leap of imagination that this person took was completely overwhelming to me."[10] The sensational publicity and coverage generated by the case prolonged her interest.[8] Peirce stated she looked beyond the brutality of the case and instead viewed the positive aspects of Brandon's life as hopeful and full of goodwill. She admired Brandon's "audacity", compassion, free spirit, and passionate "generosity" toward women.[11]

Peirce wanted to tell the story from Brandon's perspective. She felt there was an inspirational, tragic story behind the ordeal that was different from the one presented to the public. Peirce wanted to use the film as an opportunity to present Brandon's search for freedom rather than capitalize on his sexual identity crisis. She was familiar with Brandon's desire to wear men's clothing: "I started looking at all the other coverage and a great deal of it was sensational. People were focusing on the spectacle of a girl who had passed as a boy because that is so unfamiliar to so many people. Where to me, I knew girls who had passed as boys, so Brandon was not some weird person to me. Brandon was a very familiar person."[12] Peirce was influenced by the public perception of the case, believing the American public were generally misinformed: "People were also focusing on the crime without giving it much emotional understanding and I think that's really dangerous, especially with this culture of violence that we live in."[12] Peirce began working on a concept for the film and gave it the working title Take It Like a Man.[13]

The project drew interest from various production bodies. Diane Keaton's production company showed interest in the screenplay in the mid-1990s, with Drew Barrymore an early candidate to star. Initially the film was to be largely based on Aphrodite Jones' 1996 true crime book All She Wanted, which told the story of Brandon's final few weeks alive.[14] Rather than focusing on Brandon's early life and background, the screenplay was subsequently modified to be closer to Peirce's vision, which focused the majority of the film on the relationship between Brandon and girlfriend Lana Tisdel[15] and the events that led to Brandon's murder. Peirce felt there was a "great love story" at the center of the case.[8] In order to fund the writing and development of the feature, Peirce worked as a paralegal on a midnight shift and as a 35mm film projectionist, and received a New York Foundation for the Arts grant.[16] The project attracted the attention of producer Christine Vachon, who had seen Peirce's short film she had made for her thesis in 1995.[10] Peirce co-wrote the screenplay with Andy Bienen. They worked together for a year and a half on the final drafts and made sure they did not "mythologize" Brandon; the aim was to keep him as human as possible.[11]

Prior to filming, Peirce conducted extensive research into the case which lasted almost five-and-a-half years.[17] She immersed herself in the extensive information available about the murder, including trial transcripts. She met Lana Tisdel at a convenience store and subsequently interviewed her at Tisdel's home. Peirce also interviewed Tisdel's mother and Brandon's friends. However, she was unable to interview Brandon's mother or any of his biological family.[8][12] Much factual information was incorporated into Boys Don't Cry, including Nissen being a convicted arsonist.[18]


Hilary Swank had initially lied to Kimberly Peirce about her background. When confronted about the lies, Swank told Peirce "but that's what Brandon would do" and she was eventually cast in the film. To prepare for the role, Swank lived as a man for one month.

The filmmakers retained the names of most of the real-life protagonists. Several supporting characters were given different names, including Candace's character, who in real life was named Lisa Lambert. The casting process for Boys Don't Cry was extensive and lasted for almost four years.[19] Peirce scouted the LGBT community, looking mainly for masculine lesbian women for the role of Brandon Teena. Regarding her casting search, Peirce claimed that the LGBT community was highly interested in the project because of all the publicity the murder had received.[8] High-profile actors were not sent to auditions at the request of their agents because of the stigma associated with the role. The project was almost abandoned because Peirce was not satisfied with most of the people who auditioned.[20] In 1996, after a hundred actresses had been considered and rejected, a then relatively unknown Hilary Swank sent a videotape to Peirce and was signed on to the project.[8][21] During her audition, Swank, who was 22 at the time, presented Peirce with a lie about her age. Swank claimed that, like Brandon, she was also 21 years of age. When Peirce later confronted her about the lies, Swank responded, "But that's what Brandon would do."[22] Swank's anonymity as an actress persuaded Peirce to cast her; Peirce said that she did not want a "known actor" to portray Teena.[23]

Chloë Sevigny had initially sought after the role of Brandon Teena. Kimberly Peirce, however, believed she would be better suited playing Lana Tisdel.

Swank underwent significant preparation for the role by dressing and living as a man for at least a month, including wrapping her chest in tension bandages and putting socks down the front of her trousers in much the same way as Brandon Teena had done. Her masquerade became particularly convincing. Swank's neighbors believed the "young man" coming and going from her home was Swank's visiting brother. She reduced her body fat to seven percent to accentuate her facial structure and refused to let the cast and crew see her out of costume.[23][24] Swank earned only $75 per day for her work on Boys Don't Cry, culminating in a total of $3,000.[25][26][27] Her earnings were so low that she did not earn enough to qualify for health insurance.[28]

Peirce had decided to cast Chloë Sevigny based on her performance in The Last Days of Disco (1998).[29][30] Sevigny had auditioned for the role of Brandon,[31][32] but Peirce decided that Sevigny would be suited playing Tisdel. Peirce could not see Sevigny as a man and thought that she would be perfect for Lana.[30][32]

"There's a moment in The Last Days Of Disco when Chloë does this little dance move and flirts with the camera," she says. "She has this mix of attractiveness, flirtation and sophistication that she gives you, but then takes away very quickly so that you want more: you want to reach into the screen and grab her. When I saw that, and her confidence and wit, I thought: if she could flirt with Brandon and the audience in that way, that's exactly what we need for Lana. I said to her, 'Will you please audition to play Lana?' She said, 'No.' And I said, 'OK, you can have the role.'"[30]

Sevigny dyed her hair red for the role to match the real Lana's strawberry blonde hair. Peirce later said: "Chloë just surrendered to the part. She watched videos of Lana. She just became her very naturally. She's not one of those Hollywood actresses who diets and gets plastic surgery. You never catch her acting".[32]

Peter Sarsgaard plays John Lotter, Lana's charismatic former boyfriend and the man responsible for Teena's rape and murder. Sarsgaard was one of the first choices for the role. He later commented that he wanted his character to be "likable, sympathetic even", because he wanted the audience "to understand why they would hang out with me. If my character wasn't necessarily likable, I wanted him to be charismatic enough that you weren't going to have a dull time if you were with him."[33] In another interview, Sarsgaard said he felt "empowered" by playing Lotter.[34] In an interview with The Independent, Sarsgaard elaborated by saying "I felt very sexy, weirdly, playing John Lotter. I felt like I was just like the sheriff, y'know, and that everyone loved me."[35] Sarsgaard recalled intensively watching footage of and reading about Lotter in order to prepare for the role.[36] Peirce cast Alicia Goranson, known for playing Becky on the sitcom Roseanne, as Candace because of her likeness to Lisa Lambert, who was 24 when she was shot by John Lotter.[8] Like Sevigny, Goranson had initially auditioned for the lead role.[31]

Principal photography[edit]

Principal photography for Boys Don't Cry lasted from October 19 to November 24, 1998. The small budget dictated some of the filming decisions, including omitting incidents to speed up the overall pacing. Timing constraints put limits on what could be achieved with the narrative.[8][37] For example, the film portrays a double murder when in actuality a third person, Phillip DeVine, a black disabled man, was killed at the scene. At the time he had been dating Lana Tisdel's sister, Leslie Tisdel.[38][39] Peirce produced the film independently on a $2 million budget. Boys Don't Cry was primarily filmed in Greenville, Texas, a small town about 45 miles northeast of Dallas. Most of the actual incidents took place in Nebraska,[40][41] but the Texas locations were chosen due to budget constraints.[8] Peirce incorporated filming techniques that gave the audience an opportunity to delve into Brandon's perspective and his imagination. "The work was informing me about how I wanted to represent it. I wanted the audience to enter deeply into this place, this character, so they could entertain these contradictions in Brandon's own mind and would not think he was crazy, would not think he was lying, but would see him as more deeply human."[8][12]

Boys Don't Cry featured various scenes which required emotional and physical intensity and thus were allocated extended periods of filming. The bumper-skiing scene was delayed when a police officer, just arriving at a shift change, required that a large lighting crane be moved from one side of the road to the other. The scenes took six hours to shoot and ended up being filmed at sunrise, which resulted in a blue sky in the background.[8] A flood gave the cast and crew a "mud bath" and resulted in some of the filming equipment being stuck in mud. Radio wires in some of the scenes conflicted with the sound production. Swank required a stunt double for the scene in which she falls off the back of a truck. Teena's rape scene was given an extended filming time, and Sexton, who portrayed the attacker, walked away in tears afterward.[8] Swank also found portraying her character daunting and felt the need to "keep a distance" from the fact that the event actually occurred. When scenes became difficult, Swank requested the company of her husband on set.[20]

Initially, the restricted budget gave Boys Don't Cry five weeks of filming (32 days). When Fox Searchlight purchased the film in 1998 and IFC Films agreed to distribute it, the project gained an additional day of photography the following Spring, the most significant part of which was the last scene in the film of Lana driving.[42]


Peirce set up a sequence to make the viewer feel like they are walking with Brandon while on his date at the roller-rink. The three-shot structure was inspired by a scene from The Wizard of Oz (1939). After an establishing shot of the character; he then walks through the door; the viewer sees the door opening; the character goes through the door thus allowing the viewer to feel as if they are sharing the experience.[8]

Peirce had originally sought a career in photography, but chose to pursue a career in film making instead, which gave her the ability to apply techniques she had learned into the film.[43] She described the mood she was trying to evoke as "artificial night". Director of Photography Jim Denault showed her the work of photographer Jan Staller, whose long exposure night photography under artificial lighting inspired Denault to avoid using "moonlight" effects for most of the film. As a way to further incorporate the sense of artificial night, John Pirozzi, who had been doing some experiments with time-lapse photography using non-motion-controlled moving camera, was invited to create the transition shots seen throughout the film.[42]

The visual style depicts the Midwestern United States in a "withdrawn",[44] dark and understated light to give a "surreal" effect.[45] Denault shot Boys Don't Cry in flat spherical format on 35 mm film using Kodak Vision film stock. The film was shot with a Moviecam Compact camera and Carl Zeiss super speed lenses. For the scene in which Brandon is stripped, a hand-held camera was used to give a sense of subjectivity and intimacy.[42]

Many scenes were shot at night to give a muted palete. However, there is a significant use of color and brightness in certain scenes, such as both scenes featuring Brandon and Lana making love. Peirce and Denault talked through the whole script and drew storyboards for the major scenes, many of which are representative of how the scene was finally shot. Peirce also watched several of her favorite films and broke down certain scenes that she had liked. In addition, she took a significant portion of visual inspiration from older films, including Raging Bull (1980) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Peirce opened the film with a shot of Brandon traveling down the highway, as seen from the character's imaginative or dream perspective, similar to the beginning of Raging Bull.[8] Peirce also used a similar three-shot method in the opening roller rink scene (where Brandon pursues his first relationship with a young girl) to The Wizard of Oz (1939) when Dorothy first left her house and entered the land of Oz.[8] The scene consists of a three shot sequence meant to symbolize a metaphoric "entrance to manhood" for Brandon. Some scenes were given a prolonged shooting sequence to induce a hallucinatory feeling. An example is the sequence in which Lana has an orgasm, followed by a shot of her, Brandon, Candace, and Kate driving in a car against the backdrop of the city skyline.

Peirce drew inspiration from the filming style of John Cassavetes and the early work of Martin Scorsese, and incorporated neo-realism techniques in filming. In addition, Peirce was influenced by a second style of work—the "magical" films of Michael Powell and Kenji Mizoguchi.[11] The former style is used when Brandon joins the social circle of John, Tom, Lana, and her mother, while the latter is employed when when Brandon and Lana begin to depart from that life.[11] When a character expresses a dream or hopeful assertion about their dead-end existence, Peirce cuts to an "eerily lit" dream landscape, which one critic observed was "almost David Lynch-like in its beauty, dotted with simple elements like water towers, naked trees and low ceilings of clouds."[46] The Pawnbroker inspired the cinematography and editing of Brandon's rape scene, particularly in its use of fast cutting.[47]


The Boys Don't Cry soundtrack album features a compilation of country and rock music from the film. Nathan Larson and Nina Persson of The Cardigans composed an instrumental version of Restless Heart's 1988 country-pop song "The Bluest Eyes in Texas". A variation of the song was used as the film's "love theme" and score,[8] while the actual song appeared during a karaoke scene, sung by Sevigny and at the end of the film. The title of the film is taken from the song of the same name by British rock band The Cure. An American cover of the song, sung by Nathan Larson, plays in the background in two scenes: when Lana bails Brandon out of jail, and the scene in which the two make love in the car, where it is heard at a low volume in the background. However, the song is not included on the released soundtrack. In addition, songs from Lynyrd Skynyrd ("Tuesday's Gone"), Paisley Underground band Opal ("She's a Diamond") and The Charlatans ("Codine Blues") also appear, as well as various covers. The soundtrack was released on November 23, 1999, by record label Koch Records.[48]

"The Bluest Eyes in Texas" was played when Hilary Swank went onstage to receive her Academy Award for Best Actress in 2000.[49]


Unlike most films about mind-numbing tragedy, this one manages to be full of hope.

Janet Maslin of The New York Times[50]

Boys Don't Cry has been regarded academically as a thematically rich love story between two ill-fated lovers, not unlike Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet or the story of Bonnie and Clyde.[51] Some critics regarded the film as being a "romantic tragedy" occurring in a working class American setting. Roger Ebert supported this view, calling the film a "Romeo and Juliet set in a Nebraska trailer park".[1] The question of identity (particularly Brandon's) is alluded to frequently in Boys Don't Cry and the line "who are you?" is spoken at one point in the film by Lana to Brandon. Peirce proposes this as the main question of the film.[52] Janet Maslin stated the film was about accepting identity, which in turn means accepting the fate predisposed for that identity.[50] Paula Nechak called the film a "bold cautionary tale",[53] Nachak regarded the film as a negative, dismal depiction of Midwestern America: "[Peirce's film has] captured the mystique and eerie loneliness" and "isolation of the Midwest, with its dusty desolation and nowhere-to-go frustration that propels people to violence and despair."[53]

Judith Halberstam attributed Boys Don't Cry's success to the fact that it ostensibly argued for tolerance of sexual diversity by depicting a relationship between two unlikely people. This tragic aspect of the love story led Halberstam to compare Brandon and Lana's relationship and subsequent drama to classic and modern romances like Romeo and Juliet, often using the term star-crossed lovers.[54] Ebert called the film a "sad song about a free spirit who tried to fly a little too close to the flame",[1] describing Brandon—heroic and fatally flawed—as this spirit who was murdered when angry townspeople discovered who he really was.

Maslin saw Boys Don't Cry as a tale of a trapped small town character's search for life beyond their rural existence and the high price they pay for their view of the "American dream".[50] Christine Vachon, the film's executive producer, stated that "It's not just about two stupid thugs who killed somebody. It's about these guys whose world is so tenuous and so fragile that they can't stand to have any of their beliefs shattered", in regards to John and Tom's views about their life, Brandon's aspirations and his biological sex.[50][55] Along with other turn-of-the-millennium films such as Fight Club (1999), In the Company of Men (1997), American Psycho (2000) and American Beauty (1999), Vincent Hausmann suggests Boys Don't Cry "raises the broader, widely explored issue of masculinity in crisis".[56] In addition, Jason Wood regarded the film as an exploration on "social problems", along with Patty Jenkins's Monster (2003).[57]

Boys Don't Cry was the subject of an essay Psychoanalysis and Film, written by Donald Moss and Lynne Zeavin and edited by Glen Gabbard under the supervision of The International Journal of Psychoanalysis.[nb 2] Moss and Zeavin called the film a "case report" that "presents [Brandon's] transsexual inclinations as a series of euphoric conquests" and "focuses on a range of anxious reactions to her transsexuality. It's strategy is comparable, perhaps, to using the particulars of the For a case not for what they might reveal about female hysteria, but for what they might reveal about misogyny."[58] Elaborating on the themes of the film, they wrote, "In her film, Pierce [sic] inserts the unconventional problems of transsexuality into a conventional narrative structure. Throughout the film Brandon is presented as a doomed, though beguiling and beautiful rascal, recognizably located in the lineage of well-known cinematic bad-boys like James Dean, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman. Like these predecessors, Brandon's heroic stature derives from her unwillingness to compromise her identity. […] Pierce [sic] presents Brandon's struggles against biological determinism as the struggles of a dignified renegade.[59]


Boys Don't Cry premiered in Canada at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September 1999. It received its US premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 8, 1999, to critical acclaim.[50] It was shown at the Reel Affirmations International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in early October to further praise.[60][61] Boys Don't Cry was given a special screening "in snippets" at the Sundance Film Festival. At that time, the film was still called Take It Like a Man.[62] The film received a limited release theatrically on October 22, 1999, in the United States,[63] where it was distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox that specializes in independent films.[64] The film grossed $73,720 in its opening week. By December 5, the film had grossed in excess of $2 million. By May 2000, the film had a United States total gross of $11,540,607—more than threefold higher than its production budget.[65] Internationally, the film was released on March 2, 2000 in Australia[66] and April 7, 2000 in the United Kingdom.

The film won a variety of awards, with the majority going to Swank for her performance. Swank won a Best Actress Oscar while Sevigny received a nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actress.[67] From the Hollywood Foreign Press, the film received two Golden Globe nominations in the same two categories (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress) for Swank and Sevigny, with one win (Best Actress). Swank and Sevigny both received Best Actress Awards from the New York Film Critics Circle, the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, and an Independent Spirit Award. The film won three awards at the Boston Society of Film Critics Awards: Best Actress (Swank), Best Supporting Actress (Sevigny), and Best Director (Peirce). Swank and Sevigny won Satellite Awards for their performances, while the film itself was nominated in two other categories: Best Picture (Drama) and Best Director. It was named one of the best films of the year by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.[68] Boys Don't Cry's release was concurrent with the murder of a homosexual teenager, Matthew Shepard, who was killed on October 12, 1998, almost a year before the film's premiere. The murder sparked additional public interest in hate crime legislation in America and in Brandon Teena, and aided public interest in Boys Don't Cry.[69]

Critical reception[edit]

"There may not be a better acted film this year. Every inch of the character exudes a male sensibility so powerfully, and at times so vulnerably, that Swank's performance crosses into a realm of veracity rare in any film acting.

Peter Stack of The San Francisco Chronicle[70]

Boys Don't Cry received a highly favorable critical reception in 1999, with many critics declaring it one of the best films of the year.[44][68][71][72][73] Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 88% out of 75 professional critics gave the film a positive review, with the site consensus being that "Hilary Swank's acclaimed performance pays fitting tribute to the tragic life of Brandon Teena."[74] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film an 86 of 100, indicating "universal acclaim."[75] One reviewer said the film was a "critical knockout".[11] The performances of Swank and Sevigny were picked out as some of the film's strongest elements, with Rolling Stone saying that the pair "give performances that burn in the memory"[76] and The Film Stage eventually calling Swank's performance "one of the greatest" Best Actress Oscar-winning performances.[77]

"Swank and Sevigny give performances that burn in the memory. Boys Don't Cry means to shake you, and does.

Rolling Stone magazine[76]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times was particularly enthusiastic in his review: he called it "one of the best films of the year", and listed it as one of his five best films of 1999, stating "this could have been a clinical movie of the week, but instead it's a sad song about a free spirit who tried to fly a little too close to the flame".[1] Janet Maslin of The New York Times said the film was "stunning", and gave it four out of four stars. Maslin observed that "unlike most films about mind-numbing tragedy, this one manages to be full of hope".[50] Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times praised the lack of romanticization and dramatization of the characters and reported that "Peirce and Bienen and the expert cast engage us in the actuality of these rootless, hopeless, stoned-out lives without sentimentalizing or romanticizing them" and said that "Boys Don't Cry is an exceptional—and exceptionally disturbing film",[78] while Mike Clarke of USA Today commended Peirce's depth of knowledge of the case and the subject matter: "Peirce seems to have researched her subject with grad-school-thesis intensity".[74]

Online film reviewer James Berardinelli gave the film three and a half stars out of four, praising the performances of Swank and Sevigny as the film's greatest success and likening the intensity of the film to that of a train wreck. Berardinelli stated that Swank "gives the performance of her career" and that "Sevigny's performance is more conventional than Swank's, but no less effective. She provides the counterbalance to the tide of hatred that drowns the last act of the film."[79] Emanuel Levy of Variety Magazine called the acting "flawless" and acknowledged that the "stunningly accomplished" and "candid" film could be "seen as a Rebel Without a Cause for these culturally diverse and complex times, with the two misfits enacting a version of the James DeanNatalie Wood romance with utmost conviction, searching, like their '50s counterparts, for love, self-worth and a place to call home."[3] Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post noted that the performances are of such "luminous humanity that they break your heart".[80] Premiere listed Swank's performance as one of the "100 Greatest Performances of All Time".[81] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly called Swank a "revelation" and noted that "by the end, her Brandon/Teena is beyond male or female. It's as if we were simply glimpsing the character's soul, in all its yearning and conflicted beauty".[82]

Peter Stack of San Francisco Chronicle lauded the lead acting performances of Swank, Sevigny, Saarsgard, and Sexton III, writing "It may be the best-acted film of the year."[70] Jay Carr of The Boston Globe wrote that "Boys Don't Cry not only revisits the crime, but convinces us we're being taken inside it.".[74] Stephanie Zacharek of Salon gave a very positive review, singling out the directing and acting. Regarding Peirce, she wrote, "Peirce...covers an extraordinary amount of territory, not just in terms of dealing with Brandon’s sexual-identity and self-fulfillment issues, but also in trying to understand the lives of those around him." In addition, the reviewer described Swank's performance as "a continual revelation" and Sevigny's performance as "transformative." Elaborating, she stated that "When Brandon dies, “Boys Don’t Cry” reaches an emotional intensity that’s almost operatic. The saddest thing, though, is seeing Sevigny’s Lana crumpled over his corpse — the way she playsit, you know that when Brandon went, he took a part of her with him, too."[46]

The film was not without detractors, with most backlash focusing primarily on the adult themed subject matter. Elizabeth L. Bland of Time magazine was one of the film's negative reviewers, claiming that "the film lets down the material. It's too cool: all attitude, no sizzle". Peter Rainer of New York Magazine gave an unfavorable comparison to Rebel Without a Cause (1954), calling it a "transgendered" version.[74] In 2007, Premiere ranked the film on its list of the "The 25 Most Dangerous Movies".[83]

Noelle Howey, writing for Mother Jones, argued that despite the critical acclaim, relatively few critics understood what she perceived as the main point of the film—Brandon being a victim of trans bashing. "Even a cursory glance at reviews of "Boys Don't Cry" reveals that while most critics admired the film, few absorbed its main point: that Brandon Teena was a biological girl who felt innately that she was a man. Most of the media instead cast Teena as a Yentl for the new millennium, rather than a victim of anti-transgender bigotry."[7]

The real Lana Tisdel declared her dislike for the film, claiming, among others, that Brandon never proposed to her, and in fact, when Tisdel discovered the truth about Brandon's gender, she ended the relationship on the spot and left Brandon. She did not like the way she herself was portrayed, and has said that this film is the "second murder of Brandon Teena".[84]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Home media[edit]

A DVD version of Boys Don't Cry was released in April 2000 in the United States and Canada.[85] The DVD contained an assortment of special features, including a commentary by Kimberly Peirce and a behind-the-scenes featurette, featuring interviews from Peirce, Swank and Sevigny, as well as a theatrical trailer and three TV spots.[85][86] This same edition was re-released in 2009 with different cover art.[87]

The film was released on Blu-ray on February 16, 2011 by 20th Century Fox Entertainment in conjunction with Fox Pathé Europa.[88]


The accuracy of the film was disputed by real-life people involved in the murder. Lana Tisdel sued the film's producers for "invasion of privacy" and the unauthorized use of her name and likeness prior to the film's theatrical release. She claimed that the film depicted her as "lazy, white trash and a skanky snake". Tisdel claimed that the film falsely portrayed that she continued the relationship with Teena after she discovered Teena was anatomically and chromosomally female. She settled her lawsuit against Fox Searchlight for an undisclosed sum.[89][90] Swank received criticism from the family of Brandon Teena for her repeated use of the male gender pronoun "he" in her Oscar acceptance speech. Teena's mother, JoAnn Brandon, argued that her child's transgenderism was a defense mechanism that was developed in response to childhood sexual abuse, rather than being an expression of Teena's gendered sense of self: "She pretended she was a man so no other man could touch her."[91][92]

Despite the criticism, Kevin Okeefe, writing for Out, defended the acceptance speech, writing that "Swank deserves a place in the great acceptance speech canon for being bold, not only as an actress, but as an award winner."[93] Swank later apologized, but many transgender activists asserted that she was correct in referring to Teena as a man, as this was the gender in which Teena preferred to live and act. Sarah Nissen, cousin of perpetrator Marvin Nissen, was also critical of the film, stating that "There's none of it that's right. It was just weird."[94]

Along with the portrayal of the actual ordeal and the people involved, the film garnered significant controversy for its graphic rape scene.[95] Initially assigned an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, the content was strongly toned down for the US release, where the film was rated R. Peirce was interviewed for the 2005 documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated about the trouble the film had with the MPAA, particularly the censoring of the sex scenes.[96] The double rape caused significant problems with the MPAA and had to be trimmed to avoid the NC-17 rating.[97] The European version is more explicit, particularly with the first rape. Peirce displayed anger over the fact the MPAA wanted the sex scene between Brandon and Lana removed but was satisfied with the overall brutality and violence in the murder scene.[96]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brandon Teena was never his legal name; Other names may include his legal name, as well as "Billy Brinson", "Teena Ray", or "Charles Brayman".[98]
  2. ^ The essay uses female pronouns to refer to Brandon, which will be reserved for the purposes of quotes.
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External links[edit]