Boys in the Band, The (2020)

Rating:

Stonewalling

Main Cast: Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto

Director: Joe Mantello

I am happy to announce that Condo Maine, my Ottoman fantasy in the sky, high atop the Nakatomi tower in Century City has finally been completed to the point that it is habitable.  I can’t say that all the little details, such as the caryatids holding up the vault of the home theater that are modeled on me in many of my famous film costumes, are finished to the level of detail that a woman of my refined tastes would expect.  The one closest to the servant entrance of the kitchen, which is supposed to be me in my ball gown from The King and Eye for an Eye – my musical adaptation of Titus Andronicus – looks suspiciously like Bugs Bunny as Brunhilde from What’s Opera Doc?  The Tiepolo inspired ceilings in the bathrooms are also unfinished and the grand foyer and stair is missing its elegant balustrade with the mother of pearl and turquoise inlay. 

man carrying boxes
I told Fajer he could make two trips. The man is so devoted to me!

I have been able to take up residence but there are still boxes and bins stacked everywhere, teasing me into trying to sort out their contents when I am simply exhausted from life in this time of corona virus.  It hasn’t helped that the Gucci people have been bothering me for weeks with threats of legal action regarding the rather unfortunate incident at the Santa Monica pier.  Fortunately, Fajer and Hellmann, my attorneys, are well versed at handling such nuisance claims and have promised that it will all be handled without anything of significance hitting the press. I’m used to the occasional negative publicity – it’s one of the tribulations of being a star of my magnitude – but I really would like to keep it tamped down while I get ready to launch my latest entertainment project.  The details are still being worked out but I should be ready to announce within the next few weeks.

Even if the décor is not yet completely to my taste, the electrician has been able to finish the wiring in the home theater so that I am able to watch films in relative comfort.  I went in, sat down in one of my newly ordered chaises, poured myself a drink from a handy pitcher of Pina Coladas that had been considerately left for me by Yesenia, my new cook and bartender.  The full service remote that has been programmed to run the lights, the television, the streaming services, and the grand drape worked pretty well, although the drape did get caught on a stray extension cord forcing me to climb up on a nearby escritoire before the deep purple velvet could rip.  At last, however, things were ready and I flipped through the offerings on Netflix to see what new films were available.  I settled on the recent remake of The Boys in the Band produced by the ubiquitous Ryan Murphy for Netflix as part of his lucrative deal with the streaming service.

The Boys in the Band started life as a stage play by Mart Crowley, premiering in 1968.  It was the first play produced in New York that unashamedly looked at the contemporary urban gay scene and its inhabitants and allowed a gay author to tell a true-to-life story about the relatively hidden homosexual world that was part of late 60s New York.  The play, opening a year prior to the Stonewall riots and the birth of the modern gay rights movement, was a sensation.  Gay audiences finally saw themselves portrayed on the stage as they were and straight audiences were allowed a peek into a subculture that they knew next to nothing about as it was kept firmly hidden from view by the mores of the time. Modern gay audiences have some issues with the self loathing, cruel games playing, and casual dropping of words that are now considered slurs on display but the play was written in a different time for a different audience and is an important landmark in the development of gay American culture.  The Boys in the Band was eventually filmed in 1970 with most of the Broadway cast reprising their roles and it is this version that is most commonly seen.

In 2018, The Boys in the Band was revived on Broadway for a limited run with a cast of well known actors, all of whom are openly gay in the entertainment industry and to the public.  (The original 1968 cast was a mix of straight and gay actors).  I was fortunate enough to see the production and enjoyed it for some very good performances which managed to transcend a ridiculously out-of-period design concept which made Michael’s 1960s New York apartment look like Malibu Barbie’s Totally 80s Dream House.  In a nod to history, the cast was gathered together after the run for a remade film version to be released fifty years after the original.  Joe Mantello, the great New York stage director, who directed the Broadway revival, also helmed the film and fortunately, with the additional realism allowed for by film sets and location shooting, created a world which actually feels like late 1960s New York.

An opening montage introduces us to the various boys as they go about their daily lives before gathering at Michael’s (Jim Parsons) apartment for the birthday of Harold (Zachary Quinto).  The guests include Michael’s old friend and sometime lover Donald (Matt Bomer), fey Emory (Robin de Jesus), studious librarian Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), bickering couple Larry (Andrew Rannells) and Hank (Tuc Watkins).  Into this mix come Alan (Brian Hutchison), Michael’s straight friend who is going through some personal traumas and Cowboy (Charlie Carver), a dimwitted hustler who is Emory’s birthday gift to Harold for the night.  The guys dish, dance, and fight.  Secrets are spilled, motivations are not always what they seem, and various sorts of love awkwardly are spoken or silenced.  The Boys in the Band is at its best in the first act when the stakes are lower and the cheeky and hilarious insults fly.  The second act, which revolves around a sadistic telephone game is less successful (and feels like a discarded sequence from Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) but that’s the nature of the source material and I’m sure it played somewhat differently to an audience of five decades ago.

The performances, honed by months of inhabiting the characters on stage at the Booth Theater, are uniformly excellent.  Jim Parsons, playing against his Sheldon type, conveys Michael’s neurosis and also his underlying hostility to himself and the world that make him such a difficult man to get along with.  We also understand that the world, by refusing to accept him for who he is, has damaged him badly.  Zachary Quinto gets all the best lines as Harold and relishes every one of them.  Robin de Jesus, as the camp Emory, steals every scene he’s in with absolutely hysterical line readings and bits of business.  The film ends with another montage of everyone, having survived their long night’s journey into day and going back about their lives.  It left me wondering what happened next.  Stonewall was about to set these men free in some ways but it’s also likely that HIV would decimate them a decade or two after that.

If you have any interest in gay history, how life has changed over the last fifty years, or if you’re a fan of any of the performers, The Boys in the Band is worth watching.  It’s not perfect but it works as a period piece, a historical document, and a bridge between generations of gay men with a new generation telling an older generation’s story with reverence and conviction.

Snooty neighbors. Naked Matt Bomer. Someone left the cake out in the rain. Bloody nose. Excessive drinking. Pot smoking. Gratuitous Martha and the Vandellas. Gift poster. Interracial swimming.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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