Netflix’s The Boys in the Band (2020), directed by Joe Mantello, is the latest film adaptation of the play from the same name, written by Mart Crowley.
Created more than half a century ago, the original play premiered in 1968, a time in which its subject matter – homosexuality – was a social taboo. Set one year before the Stonewall Riots, it was still prohibited for groups of gay men to congregate, let alone dance with each other. Crowley’s anger about the injustices that society and legislation were imposing upon gay men was what led to the play’s creation. The film’s ensemble cast features all of the actors from the play’s 2018 Broadway remake reprising their roles. All of the protagonists (who are mostly gay) are played by gay actors: Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Michael Benjamin Washington, Tuc Watkins, Robin de Jesús, Brian Hutchinson, and Charlie Carver.
The film is set in New York City in 1968 on the day a group of gay friends attends a dinner party hosted by Michael (Parsons), the troubled protagonist. When the guests start to arrive, Michael receives an unexpected call from his college roommate Alan (Hutchinson) who asks if they can talk. After the call, Michael remains jumpy and nervous every time his doorbell rings because he wants to hide from Alan that his friends (and himself) were openly gay. Since the police in that time were known to raid LGBT spaces, the characters remain overly cautious and tension and fear begin to rise between them whenever they open the front door.
As the film progresses, conflicts between the protagonists cause the tension to increase further, such as the fact that some of Michael’s friends do not feel comfortable hiding their sexuality from Alan and other unresolved issues between the characters that eventually lead to Michael proposing an interesting but daunting game, which is where the film’s climax begins. The premise of the game: each of them must call up the one person “they truly believe they have loved”. Although Michael’s main intention for this game was to create a mess, it also becomes a reflective, cathartic, and emotional experience for all of the protagonists. One of my favorite elements from the film was the suspense and mystery surrounding the group’s secrets and the characters’ underlying issues. Will they resolve these complicated and deep feelings they have hidden for all their lives because of the society that they lived in? Will they risk it all to be sincere and at least get a chance, to be honest with themselves and their feelings?
In between certain moments of tension, there were many different theatrical elements that stood out to me such as the brief dance number, the way the characters were talking to themselves away from the rest but facing the camera as one would do towards the public in theater, and most importantly, the way that the majority of the plot develops in a single room.
For the most part, performances were outstanding, which must have been due to the experience and familiarity the actors already had with their characters from the Broadway version, resulting in very believable characters and clear chemistry with one another. Robin de Jesús’ charming role as Emory was an enjoyable surprise. The expressive Emory helps to balance out the negative emotions in the room by filling it with joy and jokes, making his character the most amusing although he is the less famous among the well-known cast. There is a clear focus on the acting, captured with multi-camera recording to increase its realism, and since the performances are overly dramatic and intense, it recreates the feeling of being at the theater.
Aside from a couple of underdeveloped storylines and a character, The Boys in the Band is an overall powerful and original film, in the sense that it manages to capture the essence of the theater while also cleverly employing the perks of filmmaking such as close-ups and flashbacks. One could easily say they should have taken further advantage of this instead of only recreating the play, but I believe this allows the film to maintain its essence. The film explores what the past of gay men was like, along with their relationships with each other and with themselves, giving a voice to older generations of gay men but also to educate younger generations. The Boys of the Band can enhance one’s understanding of the history and complexities of being gay in the past as well as underlying issues within the community such as racism, sexism, and internalized homophobia and how these can still be perpetuated until this day.