The 400-Word Review: The Boys in the Band
By Sean Collier
October 4, 2020
On its face, the life cycle of the enormously significant play “The Boys in the Band” may seem a bit rote. It debuted on Broadway in 1968; it was a hit; it got a movie version, with the theatrical cast reprising their roles, two years later. On its 50th anniversary, the show received a Broadway revival; it was a hit; it got a movie version, with the theatrical cast reprising their roles, two years later.
So much, however, lies in that 50-year gap. Yes, the world is different now — markedly in some ways and not nearly enough in others. But more importantly, this version of “The Boys in the Band” looks not, as the original did, at the way things are; it now looks at the way things were.
If this is your intro to the story, it’s a tightly structured, one-setting stage play — even if it’s a film. Michael (Jim Parsons) is hosting a birthday party for Harold (Zachary Quinto), who is considerably late. The party is going well enough until the arrival of Alan (Brian Hutchison), Michael’s head-in-the-sand former college roommate. Michael called in tears earlier in the day, and Harold urged him to quickly stop by; poor timing thrusts the defiantly conservative Alan to confront the realities of his old friend’s life.
The film only falters when it attempts to augment the continuous, single-location nature of the story; intro and outro scenes only kill time, and occasional cuts elsewhere interrupt the flow. Otherwise, however, it’s a powerful and hypnotizing drama, largely thanks to breakneck performances; Parsons, especially, stands out.
In adapting “The Boys in the Band” for 2020, it is a period piece depicting an era of self-loathing, code-switching and endless, unanswerable questions. To be sure, the original play and film have invoked some criticism from within the queer community over the past 50 years; I’m not qualified to evaluate those concerns (and to do so is beyond the scope of this review). I’ll only say that this version is faithful to its source material; little seems to have been changed.
Yet in that, there’s power. Where “The Boys in the Band” once asked the nation to face and accept gay characters — for many audience members, for the first time — it now reminds us of tensions, uncertainties and ignorances that have not fully abated. It may no longer shock, but it remains confrontational.
My Rating: 8/10
“The Boys in the Band” is now streaming on Netflix.