The Boys in the Band Review: An emotional epic about self-love that upholds the play’s legacy
Netflix and producer Ryan Murphy have had quite an affluent relationship since signing a $300 million deal to bring new projects from the Glee and American Horror Story producer exclusively to the platform. From creating a gleaming look at the heyday of Hollywood to creating a series that looks at one of film’s most iconic villains, Murphy has been delivering new projects left and right. The newest project though, a film adaptation of Mart Crowley’s ground-breaking Broadway play The Boys in the Band, is one that’s more personally tied to Murphy.
The play told the story of a group of gay friends reuniting in one of their Upper Eastside apartments in New York City in 1968 to celebrate one of the men’s birthday. However, when the straight college roommate of the host arrives uninvited, the whole night is thrown into a turmoil. When the play premiere back in 1968 just off-Broadway, it was revered as ground breaking at it unapologetically put the lives of gay men onstage within a world that was not accepting of them and featured a full cast of openly gay men. For it’s 50th Anniversary, Murphy not only helped make an award-winning revival in 2018, but also create a film adaptation that features the same director and cast, who all also openly gay men, as the revival.
With this film adaptation, directed by frequent Broadway director Joe Mantello and written by Crowley and Ned Martell, the impact of the original play can not only still be felt, but it also strikes a relevant chord of self-acceptance and “being in the closet.” It’s really something special as exudes a sense of proudness within it’s main group of characters being together as well as some inner struggles of acceptance that come with the arrival of Alan (Brian Hutchinson) – the straight college roommate of the party host Michael (Jim Parsons).
Everything pre-Alan arriving perfectly creates a unique vision of gay friendship and comfortability as we get to know the main group of friends. While there’s definitely some flirting between old flames and a feuding relationship or two, the group is great depiction of gay friends that don’t have to be romantically involved to have great chemistry. There’s a great level of comfortability that everyone has with themselves, perhaps aside from Michael, that translates to viewers perfectly. Personalities definitely clash at times, especially when birthday boy Harold (Zachary Quinto) joins the party, but you can tell this is a close knit group that care and rely on one another at the end of the day. There’re so many good vibes that come from this group reuniting, especially from Emory (Robin de Jesus) who is just so comfortable with himself that you can’t help but love him, that immediately make getting to know them come more naturally.
The relationships and characters are perfectly established as their own personal ticks and issues within the group dynamic are slowly divulged throughout the night in a way that instantly has you hooked. Michael clearly hasn’t fully accepted himself as gay, he also seems to harbor some feelings for Donald (Matt Bomer) that he doesn’t fully act on, Larry (Andrew Rannells) and Hank (Tuc Watkins) are together but going through a major rough patch with Hank coming out of a divorce and Larry sleeping around, and even for Michael hosting the party he has a frenemy relationship with Harold. All of these things slowly come out throughout the night and the film expertly builds these issues up to make the big blowup more impactful for viewers. The biggest elephant in the room is Michael not wanting Alan to know that he and his friends are gay, and his arrival immediately changes the tone of the film and the evening.
Once Alan arrives, there’s this tense awkwardness that consumes the whole night and boiled over emotions start to burst. With Michael not being comfortable with Alan knowing about his homosexual lifestyle, the night takes this pregnant pause that makes every word tense and the entire experience feeling like walking on eggshells. It turns a night of positive vibes into an accusatory and uncomforting nightmare as insecurities come to light and past mistakes make everyone question everything. The only thing really keeping things light-hearted is Cowboy (Charlie Carver), a gay call-boy that Emory hires for Harold, as his dim-witted innocence that’s hilariously brought through Carver’s performance brings a smile to your face. There’s a telephone game that Michael adds to the fray that not only exposes his issues in unapologetically accepting himself but also brings up past romances that change the whole dynamic of the night – in both good and bad ways.
As the group opens up about past loves and issues with one another, there’s a lot of heartbreak and mending that occurs that constantly tugs on your heartstrings and brings out some of the bigger themes of the film. At first the group seems like they just fit into certain character archetypes, like a feuding couple or a drama queen, but the final act of the film really shows them as something more and it heightens the performances to emotional peaks. The way that Hank and Larry’s relationship falls apart and mends is really beautiful as they attempt to gain a better understanding of one another and express their real feelings about love. Emory and Bernard’s (Michael Benjamin Washington) time with the telephone game is immensely heartbreaking as they deal with past love and it evokes the pain of getting old and missing out on love simply because it wasn’t accepted by society. De Jesus especially gives one of the strongest supporting performances of the film with how he makes Emory a genuinely caring character and he’s really a symbol of acceptance and self-love.
The biggest impact and best performance that comes in the final act, and really the whole film, is with Parson as Michael as his issues with acceptance, alcoholism, and self-love. When Alan arrives and things get heated, it’s easy to see how his two worlds colliding rocks him to his core and how he slowly breaks others down in order to keep himself afloat. It creates a new definition to being “in the closet” since even though Michael is perfectly fine being out around his gay friends, he can’t bring himself to be himself around people who might not accept him. Parson’s perfectly depicts Michael’s pain and the way he turns to alcohol and spiteful banter in order to make himself feel accepted, but really hurt those around him. His story, as well as everyone’s in this film, still strikes a relevant chord today with how the LGBTQ community faces scrutiny and struggles to find acceptance and love themselves for who they really are. It’s a great showing of how Crowley’s story still maintains relevance to this day, and this cast really nails everything with making the material so heartfelt and easy to connect to.
The Boys in the Band not only lives up to the legacy and impact of Crowley’s original play but is a strong step forward for underrepresented voices within the gay community and is an immaculately emotional story about struggling to find self-love. Personally, it’s just one of the best films of the year and Parsons, De Jesus, and the film as a whole could/should find the awards love they absolutely deserve.