The Boys in the Band

The Boys in the Band is a classic gay play, staged in 1968, with values that now root it as a period piece.

In 2018, 50 years after playwright Mart Crowley broke ground with his Broadway play, it was revived with an all-star cast: Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, and Andrew Rannells. Director Joe Mantello and producer Ryan Murphy now bring it to the screen via Netflix, as a perfect solution for those of us who never saw the revival.

Make no mistake, this remains a period piece, but an important one nonetheless. It reminds us where we have been and the progress that was made by those who came before us.

Faithfully set in a small New York apartment, producers have resisted the temptation to ‘open it out’ for the screen. Instead it zeroes in on the dialogue, relationships and captivating performances of the ensemble.

Jim Parsons stars as Michael who is hosting a small birthday party for Harold (Zachary Quinto). The guests include Donald (Matt Bomer), discreet partners Larry (Andrew Rannells) & Hank (Tuc Watkins), and friends Emory (Robin de Jesús) and Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington).

In the confines of his apartment the men can shed their inhibitions in ways they cannot do beyond Michael’s front door. The dialogue crackles with snappy repartee, bitchy quips and politically incorrect putdowns amongst close friends.

But when his former college roommate Alan (Brian Hutchison) arrives unexpectedly, Michael begins to make excuses for their behaviour. Admitting they are homosexual in 1968 (before 1969’s Stonewall riots) is a no-no, although some such as Emory aren’t about to apologise for their behaviour.

As more alcohol is poured, there is confrontation, a dangerous game, truth, tears and a surprise ‘Midnight Cowboy’ in the form of sexy Charlie Carver.

Several of the performances are dazzling, notably a Jim Parsons tour de force, fresh from his bitchy agent in Murphy’s recent Hollywood, and a striking Zachary Quinto purring his lines from behind his ’70s spectacles.

The Boys in the Band confronts internalised homophobia head on, wrapped around Catholic guilt and values that would never get past a script editor in 2020. But sincerely recreated in 1968 one is reminded of the walls that had to be broken for freedoms we now take for granted. This may make it a tough watch for some (I cringed several times) and the dialogue-heavy structure and staging is often claustrophobic.

But the benefits more than outweigh any concerns. Generations of viewers will get an insight into queer history thanks to this revival.

The Boys in the Band is now screening on Netflix.

11 Comments:

  1. I went into this understanding that I was watching a screen recreation of a play, and therefore dialogue-heavy with characters who are confined to the apartment. I was therefore not put-off by those factors and was able to enjoy the film and even learn from it. It was certainly a different time in 1968 and it was good to be reminded of the progress we have made – although, sadly, we are not fully there yet. Superb acting by a class cast. And the bonus behind-the-scenes program really added to the experience, especially hearing from original playwright Mart Crowley.

  2. Don’t have Netflix so won’t see the film. However I did see the play in Melbourne at the Playbox Theatre. It caused a kerfuffle with two of the actors arrested one night for obscene language. The good old days of Sir Arthur Rylah’s censorship of dirty books, films and plays. Not sure how it would translate to a film, sometimes stage plays don’t make a successful transition. Has to be seen in context with the time it is set.

  3. I think it would have made a powerful play at the time, I think it may have had “A Chorus Line” (minus the last razzle dazzle moments) feel to it. I was a little bored of this feel tbh, although all the acting was great.

  4. Watched this on the weekend. An interesting look into a period I never lived through but I wish they had “opened it out” for the screen as you say – 90% of it is men sitting around talking in an apartment which does get a little dull.

    The ending is abrupt and odd with very little resolved. I never quite worked out why Alan hangs around the whole time.

  5. Don’t think there is enough red wine to make this movie decent past the 30 minute mark. Bitchy, nasty, self hating gays. Sadly, not what the preview made out.

    Half a star for naked Matt Bomer.

  6. The trailer looks great. Just thinking at 2 hours long, I need to actually make time for it coz its something I want to pay attention to, not doze off through.

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