The Boys in the Band has gone from a play to a film to a revival of the play and finally to a screen version of the revival. It really has come full circle. The recent iteration came out on Netflix this week, fifty years after the original movie debuted. I was eagerly awaiting its release and I have to say that I enjoyed it as much as its predecessor.
Gay, Gay, Gay
The Netflix movie employs the exact same cast from the stage play. Having seen the play, I’m glad everyone was able to reprise their roles. They’re an extremely talented group. What’s also noteworthy is that all nine actors are openly gay. Back in 1970, some of the actors were gay, but nobody was out. It would have been career suicide. As it was, all nine actors, found it hard to find work after playing gay on screen. So, decades later to have actors who can be both open about their lives and still have thriving careers is incredible. Coming along on the journey was the late screenwriter Mart Crowley, who wrote the original play and movie. He was assisted by Ned Martel this time. Plus, Ryan Murphy and Joe Mantello acted as the producer and director, respectively, on the revival and the movie. Both are out. Overall, this project was pretty damn gay. As it should be.
Because the movie is so insular, chemistry between the actors is very important. They all have it and work very well with each other. Jim Parsons (Michael) and Zachary Quinto (Harold) do a particularly great job of playing off one another. Their characters are the best of friends and the worst of enemies. A kind gesture can quickly turn into an evisceration. Finding that fine line between love and hate takes skill. Similarly, Andrew Rannells (Larry) and Tuc Watkins (Hank) play a battling couple. They’re supposed to be lovers, but they can’t stop fighting. Conveying that love with all the underlying tension and strife comes easily though. It’s also sweet to know that Watkins and Rannells fell in love, in real life, while making the revival.
Cowboy, Donald, Alan
The script for the remake stays close to the original, but there were certain additions. I noticed that the Cowboy (Charlie Carver) had a few more lines. This made it so that he was more self-aware as opposed to how stupid he comes off in the original. It seems like Donald (Matt Bomer) was fleshed out too. I think Bomer’s expressiveness added to the character. He says so much with that handsome face. On the flip side, I’m happy that they didn’t add much to Alan (Brian Hutchison). It has always been a big question about whether or not he was gay. Crowley could have updated his work and made that clearer. But I think it was better to keep it ambiguous and let the viewers draw their own conclusions.
As I’ve said before, Michael’s NYC apartment in the original movie is one of my favorite sets in cinematic history. I wanted to move in and live in that world. The Netflix version is equally admirable. A spiral staircase, the huge living room, and beautiful rooftop space. Amazing. But this time the set was deliberately made to look a little run down, which was smart. It made it seem more lived in. Plus, Michael could never afford to fix it up. He spent all of his money on sweaters.
Outside the party
Aside from the opening montage of the characters out in the city, the original contained the action to Michael’s apartment. This added to the play-like feeling when you watched it. This go around Mantello takes the audience outside the party. As they’re playing the brutal telephone game, Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington) and Emory (Robin de Jesus) flashback to their past loves. In Bernard’s case you see the dreamlike night where he swam naked with a rich white boy. With Emory, you experience the humiliation he felt at a school dance after everyone finds out he confessed his feelings to his crush. Each flashback gives you the chance to understand and connect with these characters, moreso than the original allowed. On that note, after Michael’s last line, when the story normally ends, you see all of the characters and how they’re coping after that intense party. It gives the audience another chance to check in on them.
The more things change…
Despite some changes, the remake retains the essence of the original. I had a friend who asked if this version had the same self-loathing and bitchiness. I said, yes, and that’s the point. This is a look back at a time when gay men couldn’t be out or even legally gather together. They were made to hate themselves and some lashed out internally or externally. Shame can be dangerous. The 2020 version doesn’t shy away from that. But then there are the lighter moments. I found myself laughing at the same jokes I’ve heard many times before or delighting in the dance number at the party. The highs and lows make the story interesting and relatable. For that reason, The Boys in the Band, however it’s presented, will always be worth seeing.