Review: Netflix's 'The Boys in the Band' another solid transition from stage to screen
Courtesy of Netflix
Built on stagey performances and soap-operatic tendencies, the new film version of the off-Broadway behemoth, “The Boys in the Band” - which chronicles the livelihood of gay lives in New York during the late sixties - represents a rare breed of plays that successfully make the leap from the stage to the silver screen.
Based on the hit play by Mart Crowely (who died in March this year), this adapted version takes liberties with the material (those who know the show might notice a slightly different ending) but at its core is still about a group of gay men in New York gathering for a night of celebration during an era where Stonewall and the AIDS epidemic didn’t exist. More often that not during the late sixties, especially in the bigger metropolis areas, folks seemed to “tolerate” the gay community and embraced the arts and leisure scene with a fierce tenacity before it all went to shit.
Originally turned into a film directed by William Friedkin in 1970 (he’s next film would be “The Exorcist”) - this updated rendition of the play is helmed by Joe Mantello and assembles the entire cast from the recent revival to tackle their roles: ranging from Jim Parsons to Zachary Quinto.
Parsons - who at age 47 clearly doesn’t age - plays Michael, a closted Catholic worried about money and reputation. An old flame Donald (Matt Boomer) has swung by to help Micheal prep for an upcoming birthday party in his hip and swanky apartment. The shindig is for the uptight and persnickety businessman Harold (Quinto - hamming it up) who lives by the code fashionably late. Other guests include: Hank (Tuc Watkins) as the only straight looking guy in the room, who drinks beer and is leaving his wife and kids to be with Larry (Andrew Rannells), whose polyarmous lifestyle drives him mad. Robin de Jesus’s Emory is the most flamboyant of the squad and Micheal Benjamin Washington’s Bernard is seemingly along for the ride.
“The Boys in the Band” feels like a bottle rocket waiting to pop. From the first scene you can sense there’s tension in the room, and then Manello throws them into conflict, shakes em‘ up, and lets them go. The results come close to capturing the live theatrical experience, which in the year 2020 is quite refreshing.
But things get more tense when Micheal’s college, homphobic, roommate phones him out of the blue and practically invites himself over for a drink. That would be Alan (Brian Hutchinson) the only surefire hetrosexual of the bunch who's supposedly in a happy marriage with his wife. It doesn’t take long for him to be repulsed by the ambiance in the room, though, there are much larger insecurities existing within his body.
Even though some of the issues and themes presented in “The Boys in the Band” can seem a bit confined to 1968, it’s still impressive to see art, in any medium, where all the characters are homosexuals. And for the first hour, Manello keeps things light as each personality is introduced and some wisecracks are muttered before the main event: an emotional game where each individual must phone one person from their past and confess their love to them. The results aren’t so peachy.
This is the stagiest sequence of the film and Manello blocks the scene as if it were on Broadway, allowing the camera to never become obtrusive to what the performers are cooking. Unlike the stage play, the cinematics allow the filmmakers to incorporate flashbacks to help add context and it’s powerful. Each actor gets their moment with a big speech and despite it feeling a bit contrived, the patiences with which Manello unfolds the events only enhances the anger in the room.
But “The Boys in the Band” has always been about the quest for acceptance in an era of naivety and innocence. As a play junkie, there’s something quite riveting about long takes in which characters speak in whole paragraphs and deliver bone chilling monologues. In some cases, the ideals of filmmaking can undermine the emotional infrastructure of a scene and since “The Boys in the Band” stays in the same setting with the same characters for almost two hours, the friction remains palabale. You’d be surprised at how much spectacle exists when people talk to each other and actually listen.
THE BOYS IN THE BAND premieres globally on Netflix Wednesday September 30th.