Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) is a young trans man whose birth name was Teena Renae Brandon. When Brandon is discovered to be transgender by a former girlfriends brother, he receives physical threats. Soon after, he is involved in a bar fight and is evicted from his cousins trailer. Brandon moves to Falls City, Nebraska, where he befriends ex-convicts John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom Nissen (Brendan Sexton III), and their friends Candace (Alicia Goranson) and Lana Tisdel (Chloe Sevigny). Brandon becomes romantically involved with Lana, who is unaware of his biological sex and troubled past. The two make plans to move to Memphis, where Brandon will manage Lanas karaoke singing career.
Brandon is detained for charges that arose prior to his relocation; he is placed in the womens section of the Falls City prison. Lana bails Brandon out and asks why he was placed in a womens prison. Brandon lies to her, saying he was born a hermaphrodite and will soon receive a sex change. Lana declares her love for Brandon, regardless of his sex or gender. Tom and John become suspicious after reading a newspaper article about Brandon that refers to him by his birth name, Teena Brandon. They force Brandon to remove his pants and reveal his genitals. They try to make Lana look, but she shields her eyes and turns away. After this confrontation, Tom and John drag Brandon into Johns car and drive to an isolated location, where they violently beat and rape him. Afterwards, they take Brandon to Toms house. Though injured, Brandon escapes through a bathroom window. Although his assailants threatened Brandon and told him not to report the attack to the police, Lana persuades him to do so.
One evening, John and Tom get drunk and decide to kill Brandon. Lana attempts to stop them, but the pair drive to Candaces remote house where they find Brandon, who has been hiding in a nearby shed. John shoots Brandon under the chin and Tom shoots Candace in the head and Lana fights with them, urging them to stop. Tom stabs Brandons lifeless body then tries to shoot Lana but John stops him. John and Tom flee the scene while Lana lies with Brandons body. The next morning, Lana awakens next to Brandons corpse. Her mother arrives and takes her away from the scene. As Lana leaves Falls City, a letter Brandon wrote to her is heard in a voiceover.Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena
Chloe Sevigny as Lana Tisdel
Peter Sarsgaard as John Lotter
Brendan Sexton III as Tom Nissen
Lecy Goranson as Candace (based on Lisa Lambert)
Jeanetta Arnette as Linda Tisdel, Lanas mother
Alison Folland as Kate Lotter, Johns sister and Lanas best friend (based on Michelle Lotter)
Lou Perryman as Sheriff Charles B. Laux
Matt McGrath as Lonny, Brandons cousin
Cheyenne Rushing as Nicole, Brandons fictional first girlfriend in Lincoln
Libby Villari as the Nurse
Brandon Teena was a trans man who was raped and murdered by two male acquaintances in December 1993, when he was 21. Kimberly Peirce, at the time a Columbia University film student, became interested in the case after reading a 1994 Village Voice article by Donna Minkowitz. Peirce became engrossed in Brandons life and death; he said, "the minute I read about Brandon, I fell in love. With the intensity of his desire to turn himself into a boy, the fact that he did it with no role models. The leap of imagination that this person took was completely overwhelming to me." The sensationalist publicity generated by the case prolonged her interest. Peirce said she looked beyond the brutality of the case and instead viewed the positive aspects of Brandons life as a "leap of imagination" that eventually causes his death. She admired Brandons audacity, ability to solve complicated problems, and what she perceived as the sense of fantasy invoked by his personality.
Peirce wanted to tell the story from Brandons perspective. She was familiar with Brandons desire to wear mens clothing: "I started looking at all the other coverage and a great deal of it was sensational. People were focusing on the spectacle of a girl who had passed as a boy because that is so unfamiliar to so many people. Where to me, I knew girls who had passed as boys, so Brandon was not some weird person to me. Brandon was a very familiar person." Peirce was influenced by the public perception of the case, believing the American public were generally misinformed: she said, "People were also focusing on the crime without giving it much emotional understanding and I think thats really dangerous, especially with this culture of violence that we live in". Peirce began working on a concept for the film and gave it the working title Take It Like a Man.
The project drew interest from various production companies. Diane Keatons production company showed interest in the screenplay in the mid-1990s. Initially, the film was to be largely based on Aphrodite Jones 1996 true crime book All She Wanted, which told the story of Brandons final few weeks. Rather than focusing on Brandons early life and background, the screenplay was later modified to be closer to Peirces vision. The new script focused mostly on the relationship between Brandon and his 19-year-old girlfriend Lana Tisdel, and the events that led to Brandons murder. Peirce said there was a "great love story" at the center of the case. To fund the writing and development of the project, Peirce worked as a paralegal on a midnight shift and as a 35mm film projectionist, and received a grant from New York Foundation for the Arts. The project attracted the attention of producer Christine Vachon, who had seen Peirces short film made for her thesis in 1995. Vachon and Eva Kolodners production company, Killer Films as well as Hart Sharp Entertainment and IFC Films provided financing for the project. IFC contributed roughly $1 million, but the films eventual budget remained under $2 million. Peirce co-wrote the screenplay with Andy Bienen. They worked together for 18 months on the final drafts and were careful not to "mythologize" Brandon; the aim was to keep him as human as possible. In the editing stage of the script, Peirce sent the draft to Fox Searchlight Pictures, who agreed to produce and distribute the film while giving Peirce artistic license.
Prior to filming, Peirce conducted extensive research into the case, which lasted almost five-and-a-half years. She immersed herself in the information available about the murder, including trial transcripts. She met Lana Tisdel at a convenience store and interviewed her at Tisdels home. Peirce also interviewed Tisdels mother and Brandons friends. However, she was unable to interview Brandons mother or any of his biological family. Much factual information, including Nissen being a convicted arsonist, was incorporated into Boys Dont Cry.
The filmmakers retained the names of most of the cases real-life protagonists, but the names of several supporting characters, including Candaces character who in real-life was named Lisa Lambert, were changed. The casting process for Boys Dont Cry lasted for almost four years. Drew Barrymore was an early candidate to star in the film. Peirce scouted the LGBT community, looking mainly for masculine, lesbian women for the role of Brandon Teena. Peirce said the LGBT community was very interested in the project because of the publicity surrounding the murder. High-profile actors were not sent to auditions at the request of their agents because of the stigma associated with the role. The project was almost abandoned because Peirce was not satisfied with most of the people who auditioned. In 1996, after a hundred female actors had been considered and rejected, the relatively unknown actor Hilary Swank sent a videotape to Peirce and was signed on to the project. Swank successfully passed as a boy to the doorman at her audition. During her audition, Swank, who was 22, lied to Peirce about her age. Swank said that like Brandon she was 21 years of age. When Peirce later confronted her about her lie, Swank responded, "But thats what Brandon would do". Swanks anonymity as an actor persuaded Peirce to cast her; Peirce said she did not want a "known actor" to portray Teena. In addition, Peirce felt that Swanks audition was "the first time I saw someone who not only blurred the gender lines, but who was this beautiful, androgynous person with this cowboy hat and a sock in her pants, who smiled and loved being Brandon."
Peirce required that Swank "make a full transformation" into a male. Immediately after being cast, Peirce took Swank to a hairdresser, where her lower-back length hair was cut and dyed chestnut brown. When she saw her then-husband, Chad Lowe, again, he barely recognized her. Swank prepared for the role by dressing and living as a man for at least a month, including wrapping her chest in tension bandages and putting socks down the front of her trousers as Brandon Teena had done. Her masquerade was convincing; Swanks neighbors believed the "young man" coming and going from her home was Swanks visiting brother. She reduced her body fat to seven percent to accentuate her facial structure and refused to let the cast and crew see her out of costume. Swank earned $75 per day for her work on Boys Dont Cry, totaling $3,000. Her earnings were so low that she did not earn enough to qualify for health insurance.
Peirce decided to cast Chloe Sevigny based on her performance in The Last Days of Disco (1998). Sevigny had auditioned for the role of Brandon, but Peirce decided Sevigny would be more suited to playing Tisdel. Peirce could not see Sevigny as a man and thought she would be perfect for Lana.
"Theres a moment in The Last Days Of Disco when Chloe does this little dance move and flirts with the camera," she says. "She has this mix of attractiveness, flirtation and sophistication that she gives you, but then takes away very quickly so that you want more: you want to reach into the screen and grab her. When I saw that, and her confidence and wit, I thought: if she could flirt with Brandon and the audience in that way, thats exactly what we need for Lana. I said to her, Will you please audition to play Lana? She said, No. And I said, OK, you can have the role."
Sevigny dyed her hair red for the role to match Lanas strawberry blonde hair. Peirce later said, "Chloe just surrendered to the part. She watched videos of Lana. She just became her very naturally."
Peter Sarsgaard played John Lotter, Lanas former boyfriend who was responsible for Teenas rape and murder. Sarsgaard was one of the first choices for the role. He later said he wanted his character to be "likable, sympathetic even", because he wanted the audience "to understand why they would hang out with me. If my character wasnt necessarily likable, I wanted him to be charismatic enough that you werent going to have a dull time if you were with him." In another interview, Sarsgaard said he felt "empowered" by playing Lotter. In an interview with The Independent, Sarsgaard said, "I felt very sexy, weirdly, playing John Lotter. I felt like I was just like the sheriff, yknow, and that everyone loved me." Sarsgaard recalled watching footage of and reading about Lotter to prepare for the role. Peirce cast Alicia Goranson, known for playing Becky on the sitcom Roseanne, as Candace because of her likeness to Lisa Lambert, who was 24 when Lotter shot her. Like Sevigny, Goranson had initially auditioned for the lead role.
Initially, Boys Dont Cry was scheduled to film for thirty days. However, principal photography for the film lasted from October 19 to November 24, 1998. The small budget dictated some of the filming decisions, including the omission of some incidents to speed up the overall pacing. Timing constraints limited what could be achieved with the narrative. For example, the film portrays a double murder when in actuality a third person, Phillip DeVine—a black disabled man—was also killed at the scene. At the time, he had been dating Lana Tisdels sister, Leslie. Boys Dont Cry was primarily filmed in Greenville, Texas, a small town about 45 mi (72 km) northeast of Dallas. Most of the incidents in the case took place in Falls City, Nebraska, but budget constraints meant locations in Texas were chosen. Peirce initially wanted to shoot in Falls City, but Vachon told her that filming there would not be possible. The film was originally going to be shot in Omaha, Nebraska, but Peirce felt that "none of [the places] looked right." In addition, Peirce also scouted filming locations in Kansas and Florida. One of Peirces main goals of filming was for the audience to sympathize with Brandon. On the films DVD commentary track, Peirce said, "The work was informing me about how I wanted to represent it. I wanted the audience to enter deeply into this place, this character, so they could entertain these contradictions in Brandons own mind and would not think he was crazy, would not think he was lying, but would see him as more deeply human".
Some scenes in Boys Dont Cry required emotional and physical intensity; these were allocated extended periods of filming. The bumper-skiing scene was delayed when a police officer, just arriving at a shift change, required a large lighting crane to be moved from one side of the road to the other. The scenes took six hours to shoot and were filmed at sunrise, resulting in a blue sky being seen in the background. There were some technical constrictions: some of the filming equipment got stuck in mud, and radio wires in some of the scenes conflicted with the sound production. Swank required a stunt double for a scene in which she falls off the back of a truck. Teenas rape scene was given an extended filming time; Sexton, who portrayed the attacker, walked away in tears afterward. Swank found portraying her character daunting and felt the need to "keep a distance" from the reality of the actual event. When scenes became difficult, Swank requested the company of her husband on set. At times, Peirce worked for seventeen hours a day in order to complete more work, but the other crew members told her that this was taking up potential nighttime filming hours.
Peirce, who had originally sought a career in photography before moving into filmmaking, applied techniques she had learned into the film. She described the mood she was trying to evoke as "artificial night". Director of Photography Jim Denault showed her the work of photographer Jan Staller, whose long-exposure night photography under artificial lighting inspired Denault to avoid using "moonlight" effects for most of the film. As a way to further incorporate the sense of artificial night, John Pirozzi, who had been experimenting with time-lapse photography using a non-motion-controlled moving camera, was invited to create the transition shots seen throughout the film.
The films visual style depicts the Midwestern United States in a "withdrawn", dark and understated light to give a "surreal" effect. Denault shot Boys Dont Cry in flat, spherical format on 35 mm film using Kodak Vision film stock. The film was shot with a Moviecam Compact camera fitted with Carl Zeiss super speed lenses. For the scene in which Brandon is stripped, a hand-held camera was used to give a sense of subjectivity and intimacy.
The use of low natural light and heavy artificial light is illustrated early in the film–in the opening roller rink scene in which Brandon pursues his first relationship with a young woman, Peirce used a similar three-shot method to that used in a scene in The Wizard of Oz (1939) in which Dorothy leaves her house and enters Oz. The scene consists of a three-shot sequence meant to symbolize Brandons metaphorical "entrance to manhood". Some scenes were given a prolonged shooting sequence to induce a feeling of hallucination. An example is the sequence in which Lana has an orgasm, followed by a shot of her, Brandon, Candace, and Kate driving in a car against a city skyline backdrop. The scene in which John and Tom strip Brandon was filmed with three cameras due to time constraints, even though Peirce wanted six cameras to film it. The scene took an hour and a half to film in total.
Peirce drew inspiration from the filming style of John Cassavetes and the early work of Martin Scorsese, and incorporated neo-realism techniques into the film. She was also influenced by a second style of work—the "magical" films of Michael Powell and Kenji Mizoguchi. The former style is used when Brandon joins the social circle of John, Tom, Lana and her mother, while the latter is used when Brandon and Lana begin to depart from that life. The film was also influenced by Bonnie and Clyde. Peirce incorporated influences from Raging Bull (1980) by opening the film with a shot of Brandon traveling along a highway, as seen from the characters imaginative or dream perspective, similar to the beginning of Raging Bull. When a character expresses a dream or hopeful assertion, Peirce cuts to an "eerily lit" dream landscape. The Pawnbroker inspired the cinematography and editing of Brandons rape scene, particularly in its use of fast cutting.
Because the film is set in the rural Midwestern United States, the Boys Dont Cry soundtrack album features a compilation of country, blues and rock music from the film. Nathan Larson and Nina Persson of The Cardigans composed an instrumental version of Restless Hearts 1988 country-pop song "The Bluest Eyes in Texas", a variation of which was used as the films love theme and score. The song itself is heard during a karaoke scene, sung by Sevignys character, and at the end of the film. The title of the film is taken from the song of the same name by British rock band The Cure. An American cover of the song, sung by Nathan Larson, plays in the background in the scene in which Lana bails Brandon out of jail and the scene in which the two have sex in a car. However, the song is not included on the released soundtrack. Songs by Lynyrd Skynyrd ("Tuesdays Gone"), Paisley Underground band Opal ("Shes a Diamond") and The Charlatans ("Codine Blues") also appear int the film, as do cover versions of other songs. The soundtrack was released on November 23, 1999, by Koch Records.
"The Bluest Eyes in Texas" was played when Hilary Swank went onstage to receive her Academy Award for Best Actress in 2000.
Boys Dont Cry has been regarded academically as a thematically rich love story between two ill-fated lovers, not unlike Romeo and Juliet or Bonnie and Clyde. Some critics called the film a "romantic tragedy" occurring in a working class American setting. Roger Ebert supported this view, calling the film a "Romeo and Juliet set in a Nebraska trailer park". The question of identity—particularly Brandons—is alluded to frequently in Boys Dont Cry; in one scene, Lara asks Brandon, "who are you?"–this becomes a recurrent theme as Peirce proposes the nature of identification and self as the films main question. Furthermore, in the scene in the barn, Lana asks Brandon "what were you like, before all this?" alluding to curiosity about his pre-transgendered life. Journalist Janet Maslin said the film is about accepting identity, which in turn means accepting the fate predisposed for that identity. Paula Nechak called the film a "bold cautionary tale"; she regarded the film as a negative, dismal depiction of Midwestern America, writing, "[Peirces film has] captured the mystique and eerie loneliness" and "isolation of the Midwest, with its dusty desolation and nowhere-to-go frustration that propels people to violence and despair".
Judith Halberstam attributed Boys Dont Crys success to its ostensible arguement for tolerance of sexual diversity by depicting a relationship between two unlikely people. This tragic aspect of the love story led Halberstam to compare Brandon and Lanas relationship and subsequent drama to classic and modern romances like Romeo and Juliet, often using the term star-crossed lovers. Ebert called the film a "sad song about a free spirit who tried to fly a little too close to the flame", describing Brandon as heroic and fatally flawed, and as a spirit who was murdered when angry townspeople discovered who he really was.
Maslin called Boys Dont Cry a tale of a trapped, small town characters search for life beyond the rural existence and the high price he pays for his view of the "American dream". Christine Vachon, the films executive producer, said, "Its not just about two stupid thugs who killed somebody. Its about these guys whose world is so tenuous and so fragile that they cant stand to have any of their beliefs shattered", in regards to John and Toms views of their lives, Brandons aspirations and his biological sex. Along with other turn-of-the-millennium films such as Fight Club (1999), In the Company of Men (1997), American Psycho (2000) and American Beauty (1999), Vincent Hausmann says Boys Dont Cry "raises the broader, widely explored issue of masculinity in crisis". Jason Wood said the film, together with Patty Jenkinss Monster (2003), is an exploration of "social problems".
Boys Dont Cry was the subject of an essay, Psychoanalysis and Film, written by Donald Moss and Lynne Zeavin, and edited by Glen Gabbard under the supervision of The International Journal of Psychoanalysis. Moss and Zeavin called the film a "case report" that "presents [Brandons] transsexual inclinations as a series of euphoric conquests" and "focuses on a range of anxious reactions to her transsexuality. Its strategy is comparable, perhaps, to using the particulars of the For a case not for what they might reveal about female hysteria, but for what they might reveal about misogyny". Elaborating on the themes of the film, they wrote:
In her film, Pierce [sic] inserts the unconventional problems of transsexuality into a conventional narrative structure. Throughout the film Brandon is presented as a doomed, though beguiling and beautiful rascal, recognizably located in the lineage of well-known cinematic bad-boys like James Dean, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman. Like these predecessors, Brandons heroic stature derives from her unwillingness to compromise her identity … Pierce [sic] presents Brandons struggles against biological determinism as the struggles of a dignified renegade.
Boys Dont Cry premiered in Canada at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September 1999. It received its U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 8, 1999, to critical acclaim. It was shown at the Reel Affirmations International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in early October, where it won further praise. Boys Dont Cry was given a special screening in snippets at the Sundance Film Festival. At that time, the film was still called Take It Like a Man. The film received a limited release theatrically on October 22, 1999, in the U.S., where it was distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox that specializes in independent films. The film grossed $73,720 in its opening week. By December 5, the film had grossed in excess of $2 million. By May 2000, it had a U.S. total gross of $11,540,607—more than three times its production budget. Initially, many viewers complained via email to Peirce that the film was not being shown near them, as the film initially was only being shown on 25 screens across the country. However, this number increased to nearly 200 by March 2000. Internationally, the film was released on March 2, 2000 in Australia and on April 7, 2000, in the United Kingdom.
Boys Dont Cry received a favorable critical reception in 1999; many critics called it one of the best films of the year. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports 88% of 75 professional critics gave the film a positive review; the site consensus is that "Hilary Swanks acclaimed performance pays fitting tribute to the tragic life of Brandon Teena". Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film an 86 of 100, indicating "universal acclaim". One reviewer said the film was a "critical knockout". The performances of Swank and Sevigny were selected as two of the films strongest elements; Rolling Stone said the pair "give performances that burn in the memory", and The Film Stage called Swanks performance "one of the greatest" Best Actress Oscar-winning performances.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called Boys Dont Cry "one of the best films of the year", and listed it as one of his five best films of 1999, saying, "this could have been a clinical movie of the week, but instead its a sad song about a free spirit who tried to fly a little too close to the flame". Janet Maslin of The New York Times said the film was "stunning" and gave it four stars out of four stars. Maslin said, "unlike most films about mind-numbing tragedy, this one manages to be full of hope". Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times praised the lack of romanticization and dramatization of the characters, and wrote, "Peirce and Bienen and the expert cast engage us in the actuality of these rootless, hopeless, stoned-out lives without sentimentalizing or romanticizing them" and that "Boys Dont Cry is an exceptional—and exceptionally disturbing film". Mike Clarke of USA Today commended Peirces depth of knowledge of the case and the subject matter, writing, "Peirce seems to have researched her subject with grad-school-thesis intensity".
Online film reviewer James Berardinelli gave the film three and a half stars out of four; he praised the performances of Swank and Sevigny as the films greatest success and likened the films intensity to that of a train wreck. Berardinelli said Swank "gives the performance of her career" and "Sevignys performance is more conventional than Swanks, but no less effective. She provides the counterbalance to the tide of hatred that drowns the last act of the film." Emanuel Levy of Variety Magazine called the acting "flawless" and said the "stunningly accomplished" and "candid" film could be "seen as a Rebel Without a Cause for these culturally diverse and complex times, with the two misfits enacting a version of the James Dean—Natalie Wood romance with utmost conviction, searching, like their 50s counterparts, for love, self-worth and a place to call home". Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post said the performances are of such "luminous humanity that they break your heart". Premiere listed Swanks performance as one of the "100 Greatest Performances of All Time". Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly called Swank a "revelation" and wrote, "by the end, her Brandon/Teena is beyond male or female. Its as if we were simply glimpsing the characters soul, in all its yearning and conflicted beauty."
Peter Stack of San Francisco Chronicle lauded the lead acting performances of Swank, Sevigny, Saarsgard, and Sexton III, writing, "It may be the best-acted film of the year". Jay Carr of The Boston Globe wrote, "Boys Dont Cry not only revisits the crime, but convinces us were being taken inside it". Stephanie Zacharek of Salon gave a positive review, singling out the directing and acting. She wrote, "Peirce ... covers an extraordinary amount of territory, not just in terms of dealing with Brandon’s sexual-identity and self-fulfillment issues, but also in trying to understand the lives of those around him". Zacharek described Swanks performance as "a continual revelation" and Sevignys performance as "transformative". She said, "When Brandon dies, “Boys Don’t Cry” reaches an emotional intensity that’s almost operatic. The saddest thing, though, is seeing Sevigny’s Lana crumpled over his corpse—the way she plays it, you know that when Brandon went, he took a part of her with him, too". David Edelstein of Slate was also very positive towards the film, calling it "a meditation on the irrelevance of gender." He went on to praise Swank, Sevigny, and Sarsgaard in their roles, especially Sevigny, writing that she "keeps the movie tantalizing".
The film was not without detractors. Richard Corliss of Time magazine was one of the films negative reviewers; he wrote, "the film lets down the material. Its too cool: all attitude, no sizzle". Peter Rainer of New York Magazine compared the film unfavorably with Rebel Without a Cause (1954), calling it a "transgendered" version, elaborating that the film could have used a tougher and more exploratory spirit; for Peirce, there was no cruelty, no derangement in Brandons impostures toward the unsuspecting." In 2007, Premiere ranked the film on its list of the "The 25 Most Dangerous Movies".
Noelle Howey, writing for Mother Jones, wrote that despite the critical acclaim, relatively few critics understood what she perceived as the main point of the film—Brandon being a victim of trans bashing. Howey said, "Even a cursory glance at reviews of "Boys Dont Cry" reveals that while most critics admired the film, few absorbed its main point: that Brandon Teena was a biological girl who felt innately that she was a man. Most of the media instead cast Teena as a Yentl for the new millennium, rather than a victim of anti-transgender bigotry."
The accuracy of Boys Dont Cry was disputed by real-life people involved in the murder. The real Lana Tisdel declared her dislike for the film; she said Brandon never proposed to her and that when she discovered the truth about Brandons gender, she ended the relationship and left him. Tisdel disliked the way she was portrayed in the film, and called the film the "second murder of Brandon Teena". Before the films theatrical release, Lana Tisdel sued the films producers, claiming that the film depicted her as "lazy, white trash and a skanky snake" and that her family and friends had come to see her as "a lesbian who did nothing to stop a murder." Tisdel said the film falsely portrayed her continuing her relationship with Teena after she discovered Teena was anatomically and chromosomally female. Tisdel settled her lawsuit against Fox Searchlight for an undisclosed sum. Sarah Nissen, cousin of perpetrator Marvin Nissen, was also critical of the film, saying, "Theres none of it thats right. It was just weird." Leslie Tisdel, Lanas sister, called the film "a lie of a movie."
The film won a variety of awards, most of which went to Swank for her performance. Swank won a Best Actress Oscar while Sevigny received a nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actress. From the Hollywood Foreign Press, the film received two Golden Globe nominations in the same two categories (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress) for Swank and Sevigny, winning Best Actress. Swank and Sevigny both received Best Actress Awards from the New York Film Critics Circle, the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards and an Independent Spirit Award. The film won three awards at the Boston Society of Film Critics Awards; Best Actress (Swank), Best Supporting Actress (Sevigny) and Best Director (Peirce). Swank and Sevigny won Satellite Awards for their performances, and the film was nominated in two categories; Best Picture (Drama) and Best Director. It was named one of the best films of the year by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Boys Dont Cry???s release was concurrent with the murder of a homosexual teenager, Matthew Shepard, on October 12, 1998, almost a year before the films premiere. The murder sparked additional public interest in hate crime legislation in America and in Brandon Teena, and increased public interest in Boys Dont Cry.
Swank received criticism from the family of Brandon Teena for her repeated use of the male gender pronoun "he" in her Oscar acceptance speech. Teenas mother JoAnn Brandon said her childs transgenderism was a defense mechanism that was developed in response to childhood sexual abuse, rather than being an expression of Teenas gendered sense of self. She said, "She pretended she was a man so no other man could touch her". Despite the criticism, Kevin Okeefe, writing for Out, defended Swanks acceptance speech; he said, "Swank deserves a place in the great acceptance speech canon for being bold, not only as an actress, but as an award winner".
Boys Dont Cry garnered significant attention for its graphic rape scene. The film was initially assigned an NC-17 rating from the MPAA; the content was toned down for the U.S. release, where it was rated R. Peirce was interviewed for a 2005 documentary titled This Film Is Not Yet Rated, which discussed the films problems with the MPAA, particularly the censoring of the sex scenes. The portrayal of a double rape caused significant problems with the MPAA and had to be trimmed to avoid the NC-17 rating. Both the Australian and European version are more explicit, particularly the first rape. Peirce was angry because the MPAA wanted the sex scene between Brandon and Lana removed but was satisfied with the level of brutality in the murder scene.
Boys Dont Cry was first released on home video by Fox Searchlight Pictures in September 2000 apart of a "Premiere Series", preceded by a DVD release in April 2000 in the United States and Canada. The DVDs special features included a commentary by Kimberly Peirce and a behind-the-scenes featurette containing interviews with Peirce, Swank and Sevigny; there was also a theatrical trailer and three television trailers. This same edition was re-released in 2009 with different cover art. The film was released on Blu-ray on February 16, 2011, by 20th Century Fox Entertainment in conjunction with Fox Pathe Europa.