Boys Don't Cry [1999]

When Brandon Teena, a young man with an infectious, aw-shucks grin and an angelic face that's all angles, wanders into Falls City, Nebraska, he takes to the town like it's a second skin. In little time he's fallen in with a gang of goofy if temperamental redneck boys, found himself a girlfriend, and befriended enough people to form something of a small family. In fact, it's the best time Brandon's ever had. However, there are shadows looming over Brandon's life: a court date for grand theft auto, a checkered criminal record, and a seemingly innocuous speeding ticket that could prove to be his undoing. Why? Because as it turns out, Brandon Teena is actually Teena Brandon, a woman masquerading as a man. This fascinating story was based on real-life events (as documented in The Brandon Teena Story) that occurred in 1993 and ended in tragedy: Brandon's rape and murder by two of his supposed friends. Despite this horrible outcome, however, in the hands of director Kimberly Peirce (who cowrote the unfettered screenplay with Andy Bienen), Brandon's story becomes not oppressive or preachy, but rather oddly and touchingly transcendent, anchored by Hilary Swank's phenomenal, unsentimental performance. Swank inhabits Brandon's contradictions and passions with a natural vitality most actresses would refuse to give themselves over to. Brandon's deception is doomed from the start, but Swank's enthusiasm is infectious, and when Brandon starts romancing the sloe-eyed Lana (a pitch-perfect Chloƫ Sevigny), he finds a soul mate who wants to transcend boundaries and fated identities as much as he does. The last part of the film, when Brandon's true identity is discovered, is truly painful to watch, but in between the agony there are touching moments of sweetness between Brandon and Lana, who wrestles with the truth of who Brandon actually is. You'll come away from Boys Don't Cry with affection and respect for Brandon, not pity. --Mark Englehart

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