I’m more or less at a loss for words with Boys Don’t Cry, a 1999 biopic of Brandon Teena. It follows the setlist of expectations you would receive from a biopic, never amounting to more than a few set pieces of wavering memorability. Riffing on neorealism, Boys Don’t Cry is a solid adaptation of the death of Brandon Teena, dissecting the lack of acceptance he receives, and the constant, on-the-move lifestyle he endures throughout a couple of years.
It’s not the most memorable of films, unfortunately. There aren’t all that many scenes or performances that stick out in the mind as truly brilliant. Hillary Swank’s Academy Award-winning performance is a certainly enjoyable one, but doesn’t go beyond what is expected of a solid lead role in a biopic. Swank is a decent actor, putting in a great deal of effort to her performance here in a film that does indeed depict the life of Brandon Teena in somewhat interesting detail. Nothing out of the ordinary is exposed, a tremendous shame given the real-world relevance of his death and the impact I assume it had at the time. There are a handful of good supporting cast members littered throughout, Peter Sarsgaard and Chloë Sevigny in particular sometimes outshine Swank’s leading performance.
From a filmmaking standpoint, again, nothing really stands out. There are a few nice shot choices, Kimberly Peirce’s direction surmounts a great deal of cliché and falls on the ever-optimal experience of having the characters grow in their own time. We’re never shoehorned into unbelievable moments that would excel the storytelling because of how unreasonably out of proportion those moments would be to the rest of the grounded style. Some moments feel very much a product of its time, the final twenty minutes or so are a mixture of important plot devices coming together and typical shot direction and camerawork that you’d expect from a late 90s piece.
It’s certainly not a bad piece of film, just an extremely forgettable one. Boys Don’t Cry is another biopic that looks to delve deep into a subject that, whilst interesting on a surface level, will offer up very few amazing scenes. Outside of a strong lead performance and some interesting camera detail from time to time, it’s just another stringent film looking to adapt a newsworthy story. It does so without so much a glimmer of originality to it, expressionless at the worst of times, but moderately interesting for its lead performance.