Boys Don't Cry (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The success or failure of movies made from real-life stories always lies in the execution. You know that the premise and the payoff must be interesting enough to inspire someone to make a movie about it,  right? So the execution is what distinguishes soporific real-life stories like Silkwood, which plays out like a PBS show, from taut and tense real-life stories like The Insider, which plays out like an international espionage flick. 

"Boys Don't Cry," a true story about a female who wanted to be a male, has two potentially fatal flaws to overcome:

(1) The dramatic conflict itself is not unique or particularly interesting. If the filmmakers had made the exact same movie without telling people that it was a true story, it would have been yet another made-for-TV movie.

(2) The backdrop is boring. It's like Silkwood in that when it isn't engaged in the main premise, it's just down home folks doin' some down home stuff: drinkin' beer and tippin' cows and actin' like illiterate assholes. 

Am I trashing the movie? Not at all. I'm just setting up the next statement, which is that it overcomes those obstacles beautifully, much like The Insider. Just about every minute of this film is charged with tension. Will the impersonation be discovered by someone? Will the white trash cons erupt into violence? How the hell will Teena/Brandon make love to a woman without her discovering the secret? Will the cops catch their various evil doings? Will the cops unearth the criminal activities in Teena's past? Because it is effectively directed and performed to maintain the tension, and because the performers carry off the mood exactly as it should be, this is an excellent piece of filmmaking.

Did I like it? Not one bit. I did think it was a tense and powerful and gritty movie, but I'll never watch it again. I admired its artistry and I was impressed by the cast, but what is there to like? Teena/Brandon was not a good human being with either set of genitals. It's not like he/she wanted to overcome his/her sexual identity crisis in order to save the environment or create an inexpensive eternal light bulb. Nope. She only wanted to prove that she could be a lyin', stealin', fightin'-fer-no-reason, drunk drivin', longneck drinkin' and burpin', work-evadin', chain-smokin', shopliftin', buyin'-booze-fer-minors, no-account trailer trash scumbag. So if Teena had been accepted as a male, she (he) would have settled into a life of robbin' Circle K's. Do we need more of those guys? Lookin' out my windows, we seem to have plenty of 'em here in Texas, iff'n you Yankees have an acute shortage.

Whether she ended up a lesbian, or a transsexual, or a transvestite, or something completely unique, the bottom line is she just really wasn't a very good person. Even when she suffers, you have a hard time opening up your heart to touch her pain, because she always could have made the choice to integrate into life as a decent man instead of hanging out with criminal sociopaths. Jeez, Brandon. Dress like a guy, get an education, make a few bucks, get the operation, change your name legally, move to a new city. Bingo, you're a man, and nobody is any the wiser about your past.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • featurette


Chloe Sevigny showed her breasts in a lovemaking scene

There may be some body doubling for Hilary Swank. 

  • The upward pan is a smooth pan, so the crotch must belong to Swank. 
  • The examination scene is NOT a smooth pan. It appears that the scene was stopped and started again, and the facial frames include no bosom at all. Unlike the other scene, there was no reason at all to do a pan in the first place. The scene would probably be more effective with the camera pulled back a bit to show the body and facial scars together, so this looks mighty suspicious. 
  • The shower scene is just a butt. Could be anyone's butt. Well, maybe not Marlon Brando, but almost anyone else.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, Apollo 86/100.

  • The two lead actresses were nominated for Oscars. Swank won as Best Actress.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.8/10, #234 of all time. Apollo users 78/100 
  • With their dollars ... although the movie was widely acclaimed and honored, both at the time and in the present, it has never been a box office success. Total domestic gross: $11 million. Because of the weak ticket sales, it never expanded beyond 360 screens, despite the Oscar recognition

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, I don't know how to rate the film. I can see that it must be a solid movie, despite my personal inability to connect to it. Most critics and IMDb members adored it. That would imply that it should be a B. On the other hand, nobody much paid to see it, and it could not be expanded beyond 360 theaters, despite multiple Oscar nominations, which indicates that it was an arthouse darling with no crossover to mainstream viewers. In that case it would be a C+. Either way it is a good piece of filmmaking, but I guess you'll have to decide for yourself whether it represents a suitable way for you to pass a couple of hours of your time.

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