Small-town sensibilities are exposed when a new arrival turns out to be more than he appears.
The (loosely based on a) real-life tale of a lesbian transvestite con-person who gets mixed up with an alcoholic, two psychotic ex-cons and an out-and-out fruitloop, it's clear from the gloomy start that Boys Don't Cry is going to be far from pretty. Bleak, uncompromising and at times plain unpleasant, the film takes for its source material the true story of Brandon Teena (Swank), a girl who, well, just wants to be a boy. A sex-changing (getting her hair cut and sticking a dildo down her pants) credit sequence sees our hero(ine) at first on the pull, duping a local girl into a bit of nookie, and then on the run, when the truth about her sexuality rears its bizarre head.
A fugitive of the law, as well as a few irate townsfolk, a twist of fate leads to her befriending a bunch of trailer-trash misfits and, temporarily, enjoying a new-found freedom under her manly guise. Of course, it's all going to go horribly wrong - particularly when she falls in love with the local girlie sweetheart (Sevigny) - and, on this level at least, it does not disappoint.
Where the film does go slightly awry is in granting its principle characters such a sparse background depth that insufficient insight is given into many of their motives, and a marginally overlong running time occasionally loses a degree of momentum. Minor quibbles aside, an array of dazzling performances (including an absolute barnstormer from Swank) and Peirce's taut direction (the rape scene in particular is captured with brutal flair) conspire to produce a genuinely harrowing experience.
Not for the faint-hearted, and not quite as accomplished as it could have been, this is nonetheless a worthy attempt that is as fascinating as it is darkly disturbing.