Movie Review: The Boys in the Band (2020)

The Boys in the Band is based on the stage play of the same name. It's about a group of gay men who gather to celebrate a friend's birthday in 1968. Though, as the booze flows and an unexpected guest arrives, the night takes a turn. Truths, pains, heartbreaks and ugliness come to the forefront as the men try and reckon with their own self loathing and be comfortable in their own skin. The film stars Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesus, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington, Tuc Watkins, and Zachary Quinto. The film is directed by Joe Mantello and is written by Ned Martel and Mart Crowley, based on Crowley's original play and film. The film is streaming exclusively on Netflix.


It's inconsiderate to write about The Boys in the Band without recognizing the incredible, ground-breaking nature of the original stage production and film. It came about in a time when homosexuality was illegal and when gay men couldn't congregate in groups for fear of being raided by the police. It's also a production that originally starred gay men, six of the original nine being out of the closet. This is something that wasn't done and could be considered career suicide. Though, as brilliant as their performances were, many of the men in the original production didn't make it out of the '80s alive as they succumbed, as too many people have, to the AIDS epidemic. So, what a truly magnificent thing that 50 years later, nine out and proud gay actors can take on this story, to honor the men that came before and bring the emotion and energy of a lived experience.


The film in this form and the original, is also messy in its content. It's rare that we get a story about gay men with as much depth as The Boys in the Band is able to bring. All nine characters, with the exception of maybe Cowboy, are fully layered and fleshed out humans. They participate in stereotypical behavior and engage in camp, but that in no way detracts from their utter humanity. The film engages in discussions of race, sexuality, gender, social class, monogamy, religion and psychotherapy in a way that often isn't afforded to characters like these. They get to be as flawed as any straight character.


As it is based on a play and staged more often than not as a play would be, this is a dynamic film in many ways. Several of the shots that cinematographer Bill Pope and director Joe Mantello create are brilliant in their expansion of the depth of the setting. One of the best examples is as several of the characters dance to a slow song, the camera moves to capture a low angle looking up at Alan on the second floor, shocked and dismayed to see men dancing so closely and affectionately with each other. The filmmakers also utilized their abilities to insert flashbacks into the stories the men tell, enhancing the experience and pathos of those moments.


My favorite example of the power of film to enhance this brilliant story is as the turn happens and Alan snaps, attacking Emory. In the midst of this chaos, there is a cut to a man walking into the building. As the men upstairs yell and shout we catch glimpses of his beautiful green suit, ringed fingers, excellent coif. Suddenly, he rings the doorbell, and he's presented in all his glory, we have the entrance of the party's honored guest, Harold, who shifts the focus and upends the action entirely with one final cut to Michael pouring himself his first drink, a thing he said he wasn't going to do. It's a brilliant collaboration between Mantello, editor Adriaan van Zyl, and the performers in the scene.


To single out one performance is to egregiously put one above the other, but every single actor in this film is at the top of his game. Jim Parsons has always had greatness oozing out of his pores and I really hope this is the role he's most remembered for because he's perfect. Zachary Quinto is just incredible, slippery, snide, cruel, and delicious. Matt Bomer, usually the center of attention, is just as perfect playing the wallflower, there, but not the center of attention. Andrew Rannells and Tuc Watkins are just magnificently cruel to one another as they struggle to tell the other how they really feel. Robin de Jesus and Michael Benjamin Washington are the men who exude the stereotypes the others put on them, but reveal the tragedy underneath the masks they wear in their social circles. Beautiful Charlie Carver pulls off the dumb hustler so well and is so earnest in his wish to be useful. The loathing and fear of Alan is captured brilliantly by Brian Hutchison. I would just like to hand each of these men a Best Actor Oscar right now, please.


I really loved this updated version of The Boys in the Band. The acting is godly and the filmmaking is dynamic. It's a story that knows its importance in the history of queer culture and the struggle for gay rights and I hope that people will see it as such. You should see this movie if only to see the multidimensional facets of gay life and the diversity of queer stories. You should also see it because it's just a great movie.

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