PRINT November 1999


Kimberly Price

AS YOU LIKE IT? First-time director Kimberly Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry (which opened in October) dramatizes the true-life story of Teena Brandon, the small-town Nebraskan girl who lived and loved as a boy until she was brutally raped and murdered in 1993 for getting caught at it. Like the recent Matthew Sheppard killing, Brandon’s senseless death reverberated in the hollows of the American psyche, pitting our collective intolerance of sexual deviancy against our personal abhorrence of thuggery. While the historical record is a case study worthy of Gender Theory 101, Peirce’s docudrama harks back to more literary forms—and Shakespeare’s the right name to invoke, no matter how overused in post-Paltrow publicity blurbs.

Cross-dressing and mistaken identity aside, it’s the tragic, not the ribald, that’s in play here. Docudrama, like tragedy, may hold little mystery—we all know it will end badly—but the magic is what happens in between. In Boys Don’t Cry, Brandon (portrayed by The Next Karate Kid’s Hilary Swank, with unexpected depth) and the naïf Lana (Chloë Sevigny) create that magic in a love story that is as familiar as it is hard to believe. They had sex: She must have known; she must have felt it. But here the “it” transcends anatomy to become something a lot like love. She feels “it”—and so do we.

Peter Bowen