Have you ever been just a ‘plus one’ at an intimate gathering of close friends? A party where the pals start reminiscing about their past and despairing about the present and you begin to feel a little lost? Watching ‘The Boy in the Band’ the 2020 Netflix drama by Joe Mantello felt like that in parts.
The film starts off with the sassy 60’s number ‘Hold On, I’m Coming’ by the soul duo ‘Same & Dave’, the delicious double-entendre is not lost on anybody. I loved the opening sequence. The intro montage of all the characters going about their business in New York is colorful, witty and sets the right mood for what is supposed to be a fun party.
For those who don’t know – ‘The Boys in The Band’ is a gay play by Matt Crowley that premiered off-broadway in 1968. It’s about a small group of openly (mostly) gay men who’ve gathered for a birthday party. The host for the night is Michael (played by Jim Parsons) and things go awry when his ‘straight’ friend shows up unannounced.
The handsome Matt Bomer plays Donald, a close friend (maybe even boyfriend) of Michael who is seeing a ‘doctor’ and the two discuss the perils of their lifestyle choices. Despite being out of the closet, the men have trouble embracing their sexuality. It’s the 1960s after all. The two get into a very long conversation and while a lot of it is the kind of banter two close friends would have in real life, after a point, the monologue by Michael about how life sucks gets tiring.
A good part of the first half suffers from this problem, the dialogues are too long and the viewer may feel a little alienated from the conversations because we simply have enough background information to relate to the angst of the characters. And some of that talk is just uninteresting. For example, there is a debate on beauty between Michael and the birthday boy Harold (Zachary Quinto) which gets boring. Stale old lines like “Beauty is not everything” & “Beauty is only skin deep” is thrown in. Not sure if the makers made many changes to the original screenplay, but a few more tweaks could have helped a lot with making the pace of the film breezy.
The second half of the film however is riveting and there is a lot of tension and drama, largely because of the self-loathing Michael who decides to be a giant pain in the ass for the night. Harold wryly declares how Michael “has anti-charm”. Jim Parsons is almost brilliant in the lead role, I say ‘almost’ because his crying scenes look farcical and lack authenticity. While he is absolutely abhorrent as the host who is giving his friends a hard-time, the scenes where he is shown to be remorseful don’t seem sincere.
It is the rocky relationship of Hank (Tuc Watkins) and Larry (Andrew Rannels) that was relatable and quite cathartic. The couple can’t agree on monogamy and the actors capture their bittersweet love for each other with endearing honesty. Robin de Jesús was delightful as the exuberant Emory, who just wants to have a good time. Zachary Quinto was caricature-like as Harold and eerily similar to Michael. They are both aging insecure men, wary of their waning appearances.
It takes a little patience to watch this film. Things get uncomfortable when Micheal eggs his friends into playing an unsavory game (one must dare call the one man they truly loved), including the straight friend Alan (Brian Hutchison) who makes his displeasure of being surrounded by ‘fags’ quite clear. The game is interspersed with blurry flashbacks that leave you wanting more. Michael Benjamin Washington who plays Bernard doesn’t get a lot of screen space, but he shines in his little bits.
Despite its flaws, the 2020 reboot of ‘The Boys in the Band’ makes for an engaging watch. While some material might be dated, the movie tackles twin issues that still need more representation on the big screen – homophobia and racial discrimination. The story deftly displays how disparities simmer even within the LGBT community, over not just trivialities like physical appearance and differences in the bed, but even over race, color, social standing and financial status. The moral of the movie will always be relevant – we become our own enemies if we fail to accept ourselves for who we are. And it’s conveyed quite forcefully, even if the makers falter here and there.
It’s a 7/10 for me.