Directed by: #JoeMantello
A lot has changed since the debut of The Boys in the Band on broadway in 1968; Stonewall, Pride, AIDS, marriage equality, the history of LGBTQ+ communities across the globe are rife with stories of heartbreak and triumph. While so many barriers have broken in the righteous path for equality and acceptance, Mart Crowley’s play about a group of gay men celebrating a birthday party is considered by some to be one of the first and critical of moments. Over fifty years later now Joe Mantello’s film, itself an adaptation of his Broadway revival of the play with the same cast does less to disrupt the status quo but continue to examine that enduring humanity in its characters.
The whole cast delivers an impressive collection of performances, Crowley adapting his work alongside Ned Martel gives each actor their moment to shine but it’s Jim Parsons’ Michael that really steals the show. As the party goes on as secrets and shames are revealed, it’s the creeping self-loathing and self-destructive behaviour of Michael that makes for such a tense and riveting watch. The Boys in the Band goes beyond exploring prejudice in 1960s America but that universal desire of acceptance. All of these characters wanted to be accepted in their own way and the script shows the difficulty of that through the lens of their homosexuality. It’s not just the desire of being accepted by society but by their loved ones and themselves, the characters are wrestling with that insecurity of being rejected not just because of their sexuality but because of who they think they are.
The characters are built out from common stereotypes of homosexual men including Robin de Jesús as the flamboyant Emory, Andrew Rannells’ non-monogamous Larry, and Brian Hutchison as the suspected closeted Alan. It’s all about peeling back from those preconceived notions with the second half of the film where Michael’s “party game” allows the performers and the screenplay to ponder all of these turbulent emotions. Mantello’s direction has its strengths, he and cinematographer Bill Pope make excellent use of the camera within the same location, so much to reveal and contemplate in the small areas of Michael’s apartment lounge and balcony but the camerawork never gets stale alongside Adriaan van Zyl’s editing. Though an issue with The Boys in the Band comes from its origins from a stage play as Mantello is unable to break away from the conventions of that medium. Long monologues and over dramatised moments don’t derail the film but leave a nagging feeling that these performances are intended for a live audience than a cinematic one, everything just feels slightly out of sync.
However, it could also be seen as the characters putting on performances for one another, having to project this veneer to hide the parts they hate most about themselves. To exaggerate to make the inevitable exposures more striking, definitely in the case of Parsons’ Michael or Zachary Quinto’s Harold. It’s snappy dialogue, scenery-chewing, but with time to breathe and build, Crowley and Martel’s script isn’t lacking for memorable moments. It just feels more theatrical than cinematic and Mantello doesn’t seem to strive to make a noticeable difference through the pacing or performance.
It may feel awkward in places but Parsons and his co-stars captivate regardless and the work of Pope, production designer Judy Becker and costume designer Lou Eyrich make it exquisite to look upon. To modern audiences, it won’t feel as groundbreaking but The Boys in the Band still has its pride in representation and recognising how we are all marginalised whether it be by others or ourselves.