Boys Don't Cry (1999) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A young man named Brandon Teena navigates love, life, and being transgender in rural Nebraska.

  • Based on actual events. Brandon Teena is the popular new guy in a tiny Nebraska town. He hangs out with the guys, drinking, cussing, and bumper surfing, and he charms the young women, who've never met a more sensitive and considerate young man. Life is good for Brandon, now that he's one of the guys and dating hometown beauty Lana; however, he's forgotten to mention one important detail. It's not that he's wanted in another town for GTA and other assorted crimes, but that Brandon Teena was actually born a woman named Teena Brandon. When his best friends make this discovery, Brandon's life is ripped apart.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The film opens with Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) driving in the night. He is going with his cousin, Lonny (Matt McGrath), an older boy who is gay, to a skating rink. Lonny warns Brandon against behaving dangerously. Brandon ignores him and enters the rink, which seems magical to him. There Brandon meets with a girl. Later, we see them kissing outside her home, and Brandon chivalrously tells her he won't leave until he knows she is safely inside. But later, Brandon is chased by a group of young men, one of whom is related to the girl, and all of whom are yelling homosexual-related insults and threats. Brandon seeks protection in Lonny's trailer, and if the audience doesn't know it already, the conversation reveals that Brandon is actually a girl who wants to live as a boy. Lonny tells Brandon that he wants him to find somewhere else to stay. There are hints that Brandon is in trouble with the law and has been ostracized by his immediate family.

    Later, Brandon seeks solace at a bar where he flirts with a girl named Candace (Alicia Goranson). He picks a fight with a large man who is hitting on Candace, and ends up getting hit several times. John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard), a friend of Candace and her family, joins the fight, and flees with Brandon and Candace, with all laughing together in a nearby alley. Brandon is clearly energized by suddenly having allies. Brandon goes to Falls City, Nebraska, home of Candace, Lotter and another friend, Tom Nissen (Brendan Sexton III). Brandon stays at the home of Candace, who has a crush on Brandon.

    Brandon hangs out with Lotter, Nissen and Candace, and through them meets Candace's sister, Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny). He falls for Lana while watching her sing karaoke with her sisters. Lana is, at first, indifferent to Brandon's presence, though Brandon is clearly smitten.

    Brandon loves his new life and new friends, but has not dealt with the legal issues back home. He misses an important court date, and carries the court summons in his pocket, which states his real name: Teena Brandon. Brandon also has a period, and goes to a gas station to steal tampons. While there, he meets up with a very stoned Lana, and protects her from an aggressive truck driver. He also flatters her regarding her karaoke skills.

    Lana is from an unstable home, with a mother (Jeanetta Arnette) who loves to party during the day with Lotter and Nissen. Lotter reveals to Brandon that when he was in prison, Lana wrote him regularly. Lana later reveals that she was only 13 when Lotter was in prison. Lana's mother likes Brandon very much, and Brandon lies to her, saying his mother and sister are living in Hollywood, where his sister is a model. Lana's mother says Brandon himself is beautiful enough to be a model.

    Lotter proves to be very irrational and volatile, treating Brandon at times like a beloved younger brother, and other times berating him. Lotter shows love for his own child, but then engage in dangerous behavior, like encouraging the baby to drink beer, and then become enraged when the baby pees on him. Nissen claims to be the only one who can control Lotter.

    Brandon shows up at the packing plant where Lana works nights and gets her attention during her smoking break. She sneaks out and the two have an intense sexual encounter on a blanket in a field near the plant. At one point, Lana sees down Brandon's shirt and, therefore, sees Brandon's wrapped-down breasts. But the sexual encounter continues, and Lana talks about it glowingly later to her sisters.

    Realizing he has to deal with his overdue legal issues back home, Brandon steals a check from Candace and forges her signature to get cash to pay his fine. But while paying the fine, the clerk realizes there is a bench warrant out for the arrest of Teena Brandon. Brandon is jailed, and is put in the women's section of the Falls City prison. At this same time, Candace finds a used tampon under the mattress of Brandon's bed, the court summons with the name "Teena Brandon", and pants that have been stained with blood in the crotch. Confused and saddened, she goes to a bar to drink, and after cajoling from Lotter and Nissen, tells them what she's found. They find a newspaper that talks about the arrest of Teena Brandon, and show it to Lana's mother.

    Meanwhile, Brandon has written Lana to tell her that he's in jail. She asks why Brandon is in the female section, and he lies: he tells her he was born a hermaphrodite, but will soon receive a sex change operation to correct his condition. Lana declares her love for Brandon, "no matter what she is" and the two leave the jail joyously, then have sex in her car.

    Nissen and Lotter are extremely angered by the discovery that Brandon is really a girl -- in their opinion, she is a lesbian. They are on a rampage looking for Brandon, whom they find at Lana's mother's house, together with Lana. They force Brandon to strip off his pants, to reveal to Lana his "true" identity. Lana only looks when forced to. Later, Nissen and Lotter pursue Brandon and violently rape him in Nissen's car. They return with Brandon to Nissen's house. Although injured, Brandon escapes from Nissen's bathroom by climbing out the window. Lana convinces him to file a police report, though Brandon had been warned by Nissen and Lotter to remain silent. Brandon, in distress files a report.

    Later, in a drunken rage, Nissen and Lotter set out to kill Brandon. They find Brandon hiding in a farm house with Candace and her baby. Brandon and Candace are fatally shot, while Lana is screaming desperately. Lana falls asleep and is woken up the next morning by her mother.

    The film ends with Lana leaving Falls City as a letter of Brandon's (sent to Lana before he died) is read in a voice-over.

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