I forgot how great “Boys Don’t Cry” is. It’s a movie where everything clicks. The casting and the performances, the camera moves, and the choices of music. It all comes together in a way that is spellbinding. You can’t take your eyes off the screen, even as things turn violent during the final reel.
Re-visiting the movie for the first time since its release in 1999 made it painfully clear that the movie represents two tragedies. It chronicles the final days and violent death of transgendered Brandon Teena/Teena Brandon. It also marks, essentially, the beginning and the end of director Kimberly Pierce’s career.
Teena was born in Lincoln and moved to the small rural Nebraska town of Humboldt as a late teenager to pursue life as a man with the hope of gender-change surgery eventually leading to a happily married life.
Teena coped by engaging in dangerous, self-destructive behavior. Moving to a small town where “they lynch gays” is a symptom, but Teena complicated things by hooking up with teenage girls in skating rinks, drinking, drag racing, and picking fights, wearing the resulting bruises as badges of honor.
Teena could be held up as a poster child, warning your teenagers about running with the wrong crowd. “Boys” begins as a “hanging out and getting into trouble” comedy like “Dazed and Confused.” There are many memorable scenes of partying and karaoke singing and trying to evade police.
But, also like “Dazed,” it quickly turns horrific. We watch as Teena is clearly just one slipup away from serious trouble and can barely watch as his/her “friends” reveal their true natures.
Teena comes across as a very charismatic personality struggling for acceptance in a world not quite ready for him/her. (I’ve even struggled with pronouns throughout this entire review.)
The movie sadly also makes a case for female directors being treated as second class in the movie business – and it’s a double-whammy if she chooses subject matter that is sexually anything other than straight.
Pierce’s filmmaking is as exhilarating as that of Gus Van Sant. But he followed a wiser course, making his first splash with “Drugstore Cowboy” (a movie without explicit gay elements) before eventually making the Oscar winning “Milk.”
Pierce should’ve been on her way to becoming the first female Best Director Oscar winner a decade before Kathryn Bigelow. Instead, she spent almost a decade getting her second movie “Stop-Loss” made and did unheralded work on the television series “The L Word.”
The movie did score big at the Oscars though. The amazing Chloë Sevigny (who is rapidly becoming my favorite actress) was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Teena’s lover, Lana. And Hillary Swank won her first Best Actress award for her dazzling work as Teena. After seeing images of the real Teena, I can tell you Swank really nailed it.
The movie was appropriately selected for inclusion in our series by “The Group That Opened the Box.” They consist of teenage girls from the Bismarck area and are led by Dr. Kathy Blohm and Karen Van Fossan. Together, they co-created a full-length play that addresses an array of “hush-hush” topics in humorous ways. Their mission: to explore public silence about adolescent sexuality, desire, and mental health.
“Boys Don’t Cry” is rated R for violence including an intense brutal rape scene, sexuality, language, and drug use.
The movie shows at the Grand Theatres on Thursday, April 8 at 3:00 and 5:30 as part of the Cinema 100 Film Society series. Tickets are available at the door.