Review: The Boys in the Band (2020)

The Boys in the Band. Directed by Joe Mantello. Netflix, 2020.

Premiere Impressions

            When I first heard there was going to be a new version of The Boys in the Band, I was ecstatic for a contemporary revision. A 2020 version would be a fascinating way to explore the contemporary ramifications of queerphobia. I was excited to see a more diverse and queerer cast. Somehow, lost in daydream, I had the wrong impression. The 2020 version is not a contemporary version of the original narrative, but rather a cinematic adaptation of the recent stage revival, which also means it serves as a remake of the excellent Friedkin film adaptation from 1970. The film is still set in the late 60s, still features the same characters, and still engages with the same themes. For these reasons, the new The Boys in the Band does not offer much in the way of originality, but it is an excellent rendition of the story.

           The Boys in the Band focuses on Michael (Jim Parsons), who is hosting a birthday party for his dear frienemy, Harold (Zachary Quinto), and the various party guests. Though the film uses its cinematic scale to provide brief introductions for each of the other characters in various settings before they arrive at the party, the majority of the narrative takes place within Michael’s apartment. The ensemble each represent various essences of the gay man: the promiscuous (Andrew Rannells’s Larry), the conservative (Tuc Watkins’s Hank) the flamboyant (Robin de Jesús’s Emory), the distant (Matt Bomer’s Donald), the loyal (Michael Benjamin Washington’s Bernard), and the mystery (Brian Hutchinson’s Alan). As the night goes on, the boys move from a night of levity to a drunken night of repressed emotions bubbling to the surface.

           I’m sure many critics will toss around the term “stagey” as one of their first notes. For me, I don’t think of the term “stagey” as a negative. If the tone of the film calls for containment, then there is no reason not to keep the film isolated to one predominant location. This is a film about the internal – what could be better than focusing on a domestic space? Though the real substance of the film comes from within the apartment setting, it does engage with the cinematic form for some flourish (the aforementioned introductions, the flashbacks during The Game, and some epilogue moments) that add a nice extra bit of texture to the proceedings.

           The script is taken directly from the original playwright and screenwriter, Mart Crowley. Even if not original for fans of previous adaptations, the dialogue is still just as smart and effective as it was fifty years ago. The biting jabs and witty banter of the characters resonate with authenticity. As someone who is not against revisiting lines delivered before (I’ve seen every episode of Friends at least 20 times and still laugh), the script completely works for me, even if it would have been a great opportunity to freshen things up beyond the high gloss production.

           The cast in this film is beyond stellar. Watching out gay actors get the chance to deliver powerhouse performances is such a treat. Parsons is incredible as the lead. His performance captures such an incredible range of depth that he will make you crack up and break your heart. Bomer, who somehow only continues to get more gorgeous, plays his role with subtlety and finesse. The real standout for me was de Jesús who plays his role with such commitment he truly captures the performative essence of Emory. During “The Game,” each actor gets their chance to deliver powerful monologues and make their case as to why queer actors should be the ones to play queer roles.

           Though I wanted the film to be a contemporary revision, there is no doubt that going to the past is still an effective way to capture the feelings of the present. As we move through the film, we discover how systemic homophobia has caused internalized hatred in each of the characters. Even when within the apartment amongst each other, the boys still have to be on alert for their actions. There’s a great moment where the front door is briefly opened, and a straight couple passes by. Their glances say it all. Even in their own home, judgement looms. As the men fall apart during “The Game,” (essentially the darkest party game to ever exist) their own self-loathing is revealed, shared, and projected on to each other. The men want to love themselves and their friends, but the world won’t let them. It’s an unfortunately relevant topic for today, especially as the current administration continues their torment of queer and trans lives.

If any queer person is reading this and feels alone, please contact me. Love you.

Post-Screening Snippets

  • How about we do a sequel but it’s just about Matt Bomer taking showers? Any takers?

The Final Tea

            If you have seen a former adaptation of The Boys in the Band and do not care for remakes, I would not blame you for skipping this one. If you do not mind a retelling, this movie dishes out the perfect tea.

GRADE: A

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