It took some time for me to get accustomed to the broad storytelling approach of “The Boys in the Band”, which was released on Netflix in last week. At first, I thought it was a bit too wild and flamboyant for me, but, fortunately, the movie gradually shows more sincerity and honesty as most of its main characters reveal considerable pathos and vulnerability, and I came to like and care about some of them more than expected.
The movie is based on the groundbreaking play of the same name by Mart Crowley, which caused lots of sensation for its frank and forthright presentation of gay characters when it had an off-Broadway premiere in 1968. At that time, homosexuality was still quite a sensitive taboo for many people, but the subsequent success of the play considerably contributed to the civil rights movements for sexual minority people, and it was also adapted into a movie directed by William Friedkin in 1970, which is regarded as one of the early major breakthroughs in the queer cinema history.
In 2018, there was the 50th anniversary revival of Crowley’s play on Broadway, and its critical and commercial success (It won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play in last year, by the way) subsequently led to the production of another movie adaptation. All of the actors who were in the 2018 Broadway production gathered together again in this movie under their director Joe Mantello, and the fact that all of them are openly gay actors reminds us of how much things have been changed since the play came out in 1968.
The story, which is set in New York City, 1968, is mainly about one evening unfolded within a posh two-story apartment belonging to a guy named Michael (Jim Parsons). After the opening scene showing him and his several close gay friends one by one, we see him occupied with preparing for a birthday party to be held at his residence, and we get to know him bit by bit as observing his interactions with Donald (Matt Bomer), who has been quite close to him despite many differences between them. While Michael is your average sophisticated gay dude who graduated from a prestigious college, Donald is a handsome lad who has been fine with earning his living via a menial labor job, and we get some amusement when Donald talks about his own final conclusion after many hours of psychoanalysis.
As the time for the birthday party, which is not for Michael but for one of his friends, is approaching minute by minute, several other friends of his come and then begin to enjoy some food and drink, though nobody seems to be willing to touch a certain dish prepared by Michael. While Emory (Robin de Jesús), an interior designer who is virtually a flamboyant drama queen, cannot help but flirt with others or throw some saucy comments in the air, Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), who works as a librarian, is more subdued in comparison, and Hank (Tuc Watkins) and Larry (Andrew Rannells) are clearly having some relationship problem although their contrasting personalities seem to complement each other well (Full disclosure: Hank, who looks stoic and reserved in contrast to his partner’s carefree attitude, reminds me a lot of myself – I am usually quiet and discreet even though I am quite comfortable with my homosexuality at present).
While the man to be congratulated has still not come yet, there comes an uninvited guest. He is Michael’s old college friend Alan (Brian Hutchison), and he seemed to be quite conflicted over something when he called Michael not long after arriving in the city for some business meeting. When Alan unexpectedly appears at the front door of Michael’s apartment later, Michael naturally becomes flabbergasted, and that leads to a series of small amusing moments as he and his friends try to suppress their homosexuality as much as possible in front of Alan, who seems to be quite oblivious to that even when he encounters Emory and Larry.
Of course, Alan is eventually exposed to what Michael tries to hide from him, and the resulting awkward moment becomes quite more awkward when the man Michael and his gay friends have been waiting for finally arrives, and that is when the story begins to shift itself onto a more serious mode. While everyone drinks more and more, Michael, who is now boiling with shame and self-loath more than before, suggests that they should play a certain game together, and the following situation gradually becomes something not so far from Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. As Michael cruelly pushes some of his guests into the game, we get several painful moments where they have to face some hard truths about themselves, and Jim Parsons is intense as required in addition to demonstrating the more serious side of his talent.
The other main cast members are equally solid. As Matt Bomer steadily holds the background, Andrew Rannells and Tuc Watkins are particularly poignant when their characters come to be more honest to each other at one point, Brian Hutchison, Robin de Jesús, Michael Benjamin Washington, and Charlie Carver ably deliver each own juicy moment. In case of Zachary Quinto, he simply steals the show right from his showy entrance, and his detached but acerbic performance shines with wit and humor besides being an effective counterpart to Parsons’ tense display of seething emotions.
On the whole, “The Boys in the Band” is worthwhile to watch thanks to Mantello’s competent direction and the vibrant and colorful performances from his engaging cast members. Because I have not watched the 1970 movie version yet, I do not know whether the movie is as good as the predecessor, but I can tell you at least that I had a fairly good time despite its several notable missteps (The brief flashbacks during the second half are rather unnecessary, for instance), and you may enjoy it as much as I did if you are one of its target audiences.