Mart Crowley’s seminal 1968 play The Boys in the Band paved the way for LGBTQ+ representation in theatre. Now, the work is being revisited in a faithful film adaptation starring the cast of the play’s 2018 Broadway run.
Michael (Jim Parsons) throws a birthday party for Harold (Zachary Quinto) that is attended by their friends Donald (Matt Bomer), Larry (Andrew Rannells), Hank (Tuc Watkins), Emory (Robin de Jésus), and Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington).
This gathering of gay men and the evening’s festivities are interrupted by an unexpected visit from Michael’s roommate, Alan (Brian Hutchison), a straight man from whom Michael hides his sexuality for fear of Alan’s homophobia. With Alan’s arrival, Michael descends into excessive drinking, which, as Donald says, makes him hostile, and he suggests a game of calling the one person each man truly loves.
This game reveals the sadness and anger lurking beneath the surface of all the characters, especially Emory and Bernard, and reveals Michael’s own self-hatred and depression. There is an undercurrent of animosity among the men that reveals itself in their snappy comments and sharp digs at each other. They cover a multitude of provocative topics, including race, finances, and sexual openness. Though these quips may seem harmless at first, it is evident that some of the men harbor deep-seated grievances toward each other that only come out once they are drinking. The game also highlights Alan’s homophobia, particularly toward Hank, whom he had thought to be straight and therefore a sort of refuge at the party.
Though incredibly serious, the movie does have lighthearted moments, particularly in the character of Cowboy (Charlie Carver), hired as a birthday present for Harold. The other characters delight in his stupidity and naiveté, and he serves as a sort of comic relief for both the men in the movie and the audience itself. Interesting angles and camera shots make for a visually appealing experience, as do the bright colors and patterns of Michael’s apartment.
The film offers insight into the difficult lives of gay men in the 1960s, especially their struggle to accept both themselves and others. Director Joe Mantello does not hesitate to dig deep into the men’s emotions, whether it be love, anger, fear, sadness, or hatred. The film deals with heavy questions of love and life, particularly unrequited love and the fear of not leading a fulfilling life that is true to oneself. While watching, the audience is forced to wonder whether a person can stop loving someone, or if that love will last forever. The movie does not shy away from delving deep into the emotions of the men and the question of identity—can a person ever fully change themselves, or even change certain aspects of themselves?
The music injects the movie with a sense of time and place, and captures the mood of the 1960s. Just when Alan appears at the door, Michael, Emory, Bernard, and Larry are dancing to “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas, fully embracing the rise of Motown and enjoying each other’s company. The ’60s music continues throughout the film, immersing the audience in the experience of the characters and this brief moment of time within their lives. The clothing and the cars on the street also make it clear that this is not the present day, yet, even with its retro setting, the subject matter still feels modern.
The film’s cast of entirely gay men makes the performances more truthful and relevant. Each actor delivers a stellar performance, delving deep into the psyche of his respective character. Jim Parsons, in particular, shines in his role, playing the complicated and pained Michael with grace, even when he is being incredibly cruel to the other guests. At a time when LGBTQ+ rights are threatened and members of the community still face hatred and discrimination, this movie forces audiences to confront their own prejudice—as Alan is—and to see the innate humanity of each person, no matter their sexual orientation.
Featured image courtesy of Netflix