From: Silver Screen
‘The Boys in the Band’ is a timeless reminder of how far we have to go for the LGBTQ+ community
Joe Mantello’s Netflix adaptation of Mart Crowley’s 1968 play "The Boys in the Band" is an unforgettable revival that is as relevant and breathtaking as the original play. The 2019 Tony Award-winning cast brings this comic drama to the silver screen with glorious results.
The story follows eight gay men gathering in a 1960s Manhattan apartment for a birthday party. The night promises to be full of one-liners and laughter until the host, Michael (Jim Parsons), receives a surprise visit from a college roommate, who is still under the impression that Michael is straight.
The events that follow are a heartbreaking foray into the self-inflicted heartaches and resulting fault lines in the characters’ lives.
“The Boys in the Band” is breathtaking in the same way as a punch to the gut: It’s uncomfortable and stays with you, even after you’ve regained air. This isn’t a story for escapism in our messy world. It is a deep dive into it.
What makes this movie so painfully enthralling is that it represents the familiar desperate, selfish wish that someone out there is hurting as much as you are. Crowley’s writing and Mantello’s direction force the viewer to watch in horror as Michael slowly tears his friends and himself apart, desperately trying to make someone as exposed and vulnerable as he is.
The broad mix of familiar actors from film and Broadway bring this excellent script to life. Parsons gives a fantastic, albeit slightly un-immersive, performance as the tortured Michael. It’s refreshing to see Parsons stretch his legs as a dramatic actor, and it’s hard not to be impressed by his diversity as he devolves into the film’s most dislikable yet sympathetic character.
Despite this laudable performance, Parsons occasionally fails to bring some of Michael's most impactful moments to the audience. Parsons seems to spend more time in his head, and his acting decisions at times are very premeditated, rather than natural or organic, as some of his peers are able to deliver. Smaller character moments like those from Michael Benjamin Washington’s Bernard or Robin de Jesús’s Emory pack a greater, authentic punch.
De Jesús, in particular, is able to pull off a character who feels honest and never gives the viewers the impression of premeditated lines. His organic responses to his character’s situation make him one of the best actors in this incredibly talented lineup.
Beyond the acting, the script makes this film unforgettable. Crowley (who makes a cameo in the 2020 film) wrote the script in 1968, and it is, in many ways, written for the time. The script is steeped in the vernacular of the era it was written in, “Oh Mary’s” and “kiddos" and the casual use of derogatory slurs in casual conversation. Still, the script remains relevant for its unflinching examination of how socially taught hatred fosters destructive self-loathing in individuals with minority identities.
The timelessness of “The Boys in the Band” is a despairing reminder that this generation of LGBTQ+ youth are still very familiar with the characters’ tortured feelings, even though it was written over 50 years ago.
Nonetheless, this film is hopeful.
When the play production of “The Boys in the Band" debuted, actors’ agents actively discouraged men from taking the roles as it was believed to be career suicide. Many of the gay actors who portrayed the characters on stage in 1968 didn’t reveal their sexual orientation even after the play found mainstream success.
Now, every one of the cast members in this new film are openly gay and living public lives, and many of them are happily married. The pain that permeates the film no longer has to be suffered in the dark. "The Boys in the Band" is a rallying cry for a better future as it reminds its viewers how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.
“The Boys in the Band” is streaming on Netflix.