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Overall Rating

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Worth A Look83.33%
Average: 8.33%
Pretty Bad: 8.33%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 6 user ratings

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Brandon Teena Story, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Makes a serviceable companion piece to "Boys Don't Cry."
4 stars

Those who come to the 1998 documentary "The Brandon Teena Story" after having seen the Oscar-winning "Boys Don't Cry" may be a bit disappointed: Life, after all, is not as shapely as art. For those who want the unadorned facts, however, the documentary is worth a look.

For one thing, we learn that — contrary to the events in Boys Don't Cry — Brandon's girlfriend Lana was nowhere near the scene of the crime when it happened; Lana was also far from the only young woman Brandon romanced, though she does seem to have been his favorite. Also, Kimberly Peirce's movie leaves out Philip DeVine, who was also murdered along with Brandon and Lisa Lambert (represented in the Peirce film by "Candace"). And as scurvy as the actors playing Brandon's murderers John Lotter and Thomas Nissen are made to look, they're Leonardo DiCaprio and Freddie Prinze Jr. compared with their real-life counterparts, who appear on camera in the documentary, frighteningly closed off from ordinary human feeling.

Of the two, I prefer Boys Don't Cry, if only because Peirce found the lyricism and romance in this story (before it went horribly wrong). The filmmakers here, Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir, have only stark facts to work with. And much of The Brandon Teena Story feels padded out: Muska and Olafsdottir resort to many lingering shots of the Nebraska countryside, as well as sensationalistic or manipulative choices throughout (a trial account of the murders is played over photos of Brandon as a baby and a happy-looking teen, culminating in a brief and unnecessary glimpse of Brandon's corpse). The filmmakers interview many of Brandon's friends and family, along with the family of the murderers and their other victim Lisa Lambert (her father, and Brandon's mother, are profoundly moving in their acknowledgment that Lotter's death penalty can still never make things okay).

Some of the people that Peirce's movie didn't have room for are especially interesting: John Lotter's sister Michelle, a short-haired, deep-voiced, direct woman who's more masculine than Brandon was; Brandon's own sister, who looks more like Hilary Swank than Brandon did. The documentary seems split between those who refer to Brandon as "he" and those who don't; he left behind a lot of confused, angry people — angry not necessarily because of what Brandon was, but because he lied to them. And their sadness at his death will always have that angry tarnish.

The strength of The Brandon Teena Story is that it briefly lets us hear Brandon speak for himself, on a recording made when he was making a rape complaint against Lotter and Nissen. Hearing his broken voice — broken in all senses of the word — your heart goes out to him (and you realize that Hilary Swank, re-enacting this moment, didn't overplay Brandon's numb misery). The weakness, as in any after-the-fact crime documentary, is that this often seems less like the Brandon Teena story than the John Lotter and Thomas Nissen story. Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir had access to the trials, and the movie is weighted in favor of how the murderers were proven guilty. (One grace note does come of this: transgendered writer Kate Bornstein standing outside the courthouse, faltering as she describes Thomas Nissen's cold-blooded testimony.)

Still, the documentary seconds what Peirce's movie suggested: that Brandon, who at 21 still didn't quite know himself, was and is unknowable — a void surrounded by deception of the most desperate and touching kind, deception that seeks to shape dreams into truth.

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originally posted: 05/22/06 11:45:21
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User Comments

8/17/14 Charles Tatum Such a stupid crime 4 stars
2/13/13 Samuel D. Honeycutt Extremely good documentary concerning people who are trangendered. 4 stars
8/14/11 bronson mejia I'd like to have known how these pricks lives were going in prison. 4 stars
10/18/98 Kwyjibo This blew chunks. If it was serious, it wasn't. If it was comedy... 2 stars
10/17/98 Mr Showbiz This documentary could have used more informed, critical authority. 3 stars
9/23/98 {{{OZ}}} Funny. Perhaps not supposed to be, but funny. 4 stars
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  23-Sep-1998 (NR)
  DVD: 25-Jan-2000



Directed by
  Susan Muska
  Gréta Olafsdóttir

Written by
  Susan Muska
  Gréta Olafsdóttir

  Brandon Teena

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