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Wayback Wednesday: Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

Just try watching it without crying.

From The Wicked Witch of the West, to Hannibal Lecter, to The Joker, one of my favourite things about movies is undoubtedly the wonderfully evil villains. I’m usually glued to the screen as I watch what kind of deliciously awful form of nastiness they’ll inflict on the heroes and how much they relish being villains. Of course, it’s always all in good fun because these are fictional villains and every heinous act they commit is wildly over the top and often played for thrills and suspense. No one could be that bad in real life. Or so I thought. I’ve witnessed Michael Myers stalk babysitters, Cruella De Vil chase down dalmatian puppies, and Darth Vader annihilate planets, but nothing compares to the unspeakable evil of the real-life villains in Boys Don’t Cry (1999). There is absolutely nothing enjoyable or entertaining about their evil. These aren’t just antagonists. They’re monsters. The old adage is unequivocally true. All monsters are human.

Credit: / Fox Searchlight Pictures

Based on a true story, Boys Don’t Cry follows Brandon Teena, a young trans man living in Nebraska trying to find love while also coming to terms with his gender identity. When he falls in love with Lana Tisdel, he unexpectedly falls in with a bad crowd that ultimately ends in tragedy.

Damn. I’ll be honest with you guys, this is not an easy review for me to write. Prior to watching Boys Don’t Cry I knew that this was going to be the farthest thing from a lighthearted viewing experience. I was slightly familiar with the tragic story of how Brandon Teena was raped and murdered by two men he considered friends, but nothing could have prepared me for the heart wrenching awfulness of watching his story unfold. I won’t lie to you guys. Boys Don’t Cry is not a fun or easy movie to watch. In fact, the movie gets so graphic at times that it’s possibly too triggering for some people to endure. But I do believe that it’s so important to be educated on all aspects of queer history, even the darkest moments, so that we can realize both how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. And believe me, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to protecting the rights of LGBT+ people. Case in point, did you know that same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in Nebraska until 2015? That’s barbaric. Both the true story of Teena’s murder as well as this movie remind me of the play “The Laramie Project,” which recounts the similarly sad story of Matthew Shepard. Coincidentally, both the murders of Teena and Shepard led to increased lobbying for hate crimes in the United States. It’s so painful to know that interest in change only comes after tragedy. Boys Don’t Cry is a tragic story for sure, but it also offers glimpses of the romance and hope that Brandon was opening up to in his life, a somber fact that makes the movie all the harder to watch.

As important as it is to know about the real atrocities that have happened in the trans community, I’m still eagerly looking froward to the day when we get more mainstream movies with trans protagonists that isn’t about them being hated, abused, and killed. Those stories and that kind of representation is just as important. News flash to Hollywood: You’re allowed to make movies about marginalized communities that are about more than the bad parts of their lives! How about we see more stories of love, happiness, and accomplishment? Just a thought. Especially when you have a protagonist as innocent and full of unbridled sweetness as Brandon. An Oscar-winning role for actress Hilary Swank, Swank shines as Brandon. She effortlessly conveys his excitement at setting into the world as the man he’s always wanted to be. Swank gives the role her all and it’s incredible how she disappears into the role. She fades away and all I’m able to see is Brandon. Seeing the effervescent zest for life that Swank brings to Brandon makes it heartbreakingly sad and almost unbearable to watch, knowing what happens to him. Throughout the movie I just wanted to yank Brandon away from the people I knew were going to hurt him, and put him on the first bus out of Nebraska. It’s impossible not to be enamoured with Brandon and hope the best for him. Writer / director Kimberly Peirce crafts a powerful movie that will leave you devastated. I was on the verge of tears several times, especially towards the end of the movie when I knew Brandon’s death was approaching.

Boys Don’t Cry is brilliant in its simplicity. Peirce doesn’t get weighed down by extravagant costumes or lavish set pieces, really allowing the characters and their emotions to drive the story and cultivate your interest. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you watch the story unfold, desperate for it to end any other way than how you know it’ll end. Seriously, it cannot be stated enough how horrific the ending of this movie is. I had to watch some cartoons afterwards just to pull myself out of the hole of despair I had fallen into. The direction feels a lot like a stage play more than a movie, interesting considering how many people have gone on to compare Brandon and Lana’s love story to “Romeo and Juliet.” While I never cared much for Shakespeare’s iconic couple or their ending, I with to God I could change Brandon and Lana’s ending.

Credit: / Fox Searchlight Pictures

This was a weird review for me to write. Sitting through Boys Don’t Cry I was honestly so heartbroken by the story that I barely took notice of the filmmaking. Even now, as I’m sitting here wrapping up my thoughts, I’m struck with another pang of sadness as I remember more and more details of the movie. If you haven’t seen Boys Don’t Cry I recommend that you do. If you can’t bring yourself to watch the movie, than I strongly encourage you to read up on Brandon Teena.

Have you seen Boys Don’t Cry?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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