When I first heard of Netflix’s upcoming film adaption of the Broadway play The Boys In The Band, I thought, “This isn’t for me.” As a Black gay man in his mid-twenties, I’ve grown up on gay media. And frankly, most of it is made for white gay men first and gay men of color second. Hearing of this soon-to-be-released film, based on a 20th-century play about “a group of gay friends reuniting to celebrate one of their birthdays,” and then seeing the casts’ faces, I initially felt this film would be more of the same.
That said, gay men of all colors can emphasize with the trials and tribulations of being gay in America. We have before, and we surely will keep doing it. As such, I decided to give The Boys In The Band, which releases on September 30, a go and see if this tale could still seem relevant to my millennial and QPOC mind. And honestly, it is.
Of course, there’s plenty to appreciate and admire with this retelling of Mart Crowley’s 1968 play (and that goes beyond Matt Bomer’s nude scene). While at first, I worried this would be a tale about the woes of being white, gay, and rich, the story goes beyond that after its first 30 minutes or so. Once we get past the introductions and catty banter, though there’s plenty of that throughout the film, the rain falls and the characters’ humanity grows. By the time the cast had settled into their depressing game conjured up by Jim Parson’s Michael, I not only settled into the story but felt nostalgic and wistful with it.
The Boys In The Band is a period piece through and through. This film is a glimpse into the lives of gay men in the 1960s. It reminded me of the gay society I grew up yearning to join. The talk of gay baths, the fun of gay hookups, and the brotherhood between gay/bi men. The film’s first third is as joyful and festive as those fantasies I’d imagined as a teen. The script then, however, focuses on confronting the loneliness and self-hate that came with being gay in America at that time. Sometimes, the script was brutally honest about this reality.
Though, the film isn’t without any mistakes. For instance, the story doesn’t know how to tackle the issue of race in the gay community. So for the most part, it doesn’t. On one side, this is nice. The two gay men of color are largely not defined by their race but merely their fragility as gay men. In that way, they’re considered equals to the other cast members and I found myself at peace with that stance.
Though, there were two moments when race was acknowledged and they weren’t pretty (or even necessary). Once, Parson’s Michael uses the n-word as he drunkenly sang a song to ridicule another. While Matt Bomer’s Donald condemned Michael and yells over the n-word so it isn’t heard, the moment was still annoying in its existence. Then later, Michael Benjamin Washington’s Bernard, the only Black man in the room, admits to allowing his friend Emory (played by Robin de Jesús) to make racial jokes about him. He does so as a way to ease Emory from the daily discrimination he faces as an effeminate man. After hearing that, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes and thinking, “Two white men definitely wrote that line.”
But let’s back to the good things. It would be remiss of me to not mention how STACKED this cast is. Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Robin de Jesús, Tuc Watkins, Michael Benjamin Washington, Charlie Carver, and Brian Hutchinson?. What a great group.
Even better, the performances were as stellar as their names. Zachary Quinto as Harold was particularly scene-stealing with his pheromone-releasing confidence and bravado. He filled the room and had me holding my breath. Meanwhile, Jim Parson’s Michael had me sighing the entire movie through. While I sometimes didn’t believe Parson’s drunken acting, Parsons carried most of the movie and left me impressed by his chaotic energy. Though, frankly, his depressing portrayal of a man in hate with himself was both compelling and constraining.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, The Boys In The Band is in tune with the Michael character. It’s somber, drawn-out, and on the verge of breaking down. The adapted script, based on Mart Crowley’s play, still carries a lot of the theatrical spirit. The action is in the dialogue and the story IS the dialogue. There are very little cuts between scenes, especially in the game sequence, and these long, drawn-out, dialogue-heavy moments help to pull the viewer into the story. That said, I was also left feeling groggy in the movie’s latter half.
You might want to also be careful what drinks you have lying around as you watch. I started watching fully sober, I then felt like I should take a shot with every curse word uttered, then I transitioned into wanting to party like the cast, then I felt like I was submerged in water and struggling for air. It felt like only alcohol could save me from the melancholic feeling of the film’s ending. If you don’t like sad stories, this isn’t the story for you.
Overall, I think The Boys In The Band is worth a watch from gay/bi men of all ages. This period piece shows the sad but strong reality of gay men in the 1960s. It’s meaningful to take a look back and to see the humanity, both good and bad, of gay men at the time. Most will, undoubtedly, find this film soulful and somber as it leaves us with a powerful feeling of waiting to exhale. But while that feeling is unsatisfying, it’s comforting to, at least, have the perspective that today’s gay/bi men are breathing a little bit easier thanks to the tales of men who came sixty years before us.