Written by: Mart Crowley & Ned Martel
Starring: Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesús
Finding safety in an era where your mere existence stands as an affront to normal society can be hard to obtain and deeply treasured when found. It makes for the worst of instances in those safe spaces to still be better than what the outside world has to offer. This conundrum restricts all of the characters in the exhilarating but also flawed, The Boys in the Band.
On the day set to celebrate Harold’s (Zachary Quinto) birthday, a group of friends begins to arrive at Michael’s (Jim Parsons) apartment. Prior to the event, Michael receives a call from a former acquaintance, Alan (Brian Hutchinson), who arrives at the party and changes the mood of the festivity into an atmosphere where more alcohol pours and honest feelings arise.
With a storied past and now revitalized in the 21st century, The Boys in the Band comes to the big screen with the same actors portraying the characters in the Broadway run. With its fun dialogue and tremendous performances by the cast, this film astutely bypasses its shortcomings to deliver an entertaining and at-times brutal story. The 1960s has plenty going on but the general acceptance of gay individuals certainly would not be an apt descriptor. Instead, it was a time where gay individuals had to hide in plain sight and can only be their authentic selves with other gay people and staunch allies. The safe haven in this film happens to be Michael’s apartment and the real tension appears when it’s threatened.
As with any good play to hit Broadway, the dialogue needs to be engaging, which has translated well with this film adaptation with these actors getting plenty of tasty lines to deliver. Commenting about their lives, this story brings together these men as what they expect to be a pleasant and maybe a little rambunctious time, but their need to defend themselves even in a safe space with the arrival of Alan puts on the defenses. His appearances on-screen prior to his arrival at the party appear in phone calls to Michael and he displays all of the tendencies of someone of this era being afraid to come out of the closet. Tears flowing having recently left his wife and contacting someone he may have held feelings for makes Alan someone right on the cusp of what appears to be seeing his true self, but the mood switch he propels when he arrives spoils the night.
The conversations were mostly passive-aggressive undercuts and surface-level mockeries, but once more alcohol has been consumed a danger enters their presence, and then the gloves come off. Most of the aggression comes from Michael, who obviously feels rattled by Alan’s refusal to accept his homosexuality as he switches from the amicable host to the emotional aggressor. This takes place in the game they play of calling someone they loved, which essentially breaks some of the characters. In this unrelenting aggression by Michael, the film begins to feel at its stagiest and reminds me of the restrictions the play-to-film adaptation had. With all of this happening in Michael’s living room, the hurtful words the host spewed on others made me question why they stayed to get hurled this abuse. Thematically it makes sense because of this being their safe haven, but directorially and visually, this restriction gets felt.
This sequence brought out the flaw but it does not take away from the overall solid job done directorially by Joe Mantello, who makes the other scenes look full and lived in to match the dynamic dialogue delivered by the actors. It works well with the editing in the way it cuts to different individuals to get their reactions to the latest awful things said by the inebriated Micahel. It displays top-notch work overall, as he allowed these men to play around with these characters and really encapsulate their spirits.
With the cast portraying these exact same characters on Broadway, they certainly have a good handle on them and they translated the performances well to the big screen. While Jim Parsons certainly held the lead role with Michael, all of the other characters had their share of great moments except for perhaps Matt Bomer as Donald. He surprisingly faded into the background when most of the yelling started. The standout, by far, proved to be Robin de Jesús as Emory. He brought a swagger to his performance in not caring what others think of him. He became such a treat to watch in the way he galivanted to different parts of the room.
With plenty of heartbreaking moments and in the calm before a rough few decades ahead for the gay community, The Boys in the Band hits its mark with ferocity. It provides wondrous moments of elation along with the hard-hitting such as the bits of self-hatred and trauma from past relationships begin to take center stage. The film makes for such an entertaining watch just to see all of these gay actors portray a group of gay characters in style.