"Who is she? Who was she? Who does she hope to be?"
When Ryan Murphy revitalized Mart Crowley's 1968 Off-Broadway play The Boys in the Band for a Broadway run in 2018, it seemed inevitable that the story, centered on a group of gay men who gather for a birthday party in New York City, would trasnfer mediums, for the second time.
Featuring many of the same faces that helped the revival win a well-deserved Tony in 2019, The Boys in the Band captures the unique and vibrant energy of its source material. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, given the tight original script that takes place almost entirely within the confines of a single location, but it's still worth mentioning.
Stage director Joe Mantello, a heavyweight in his craft, delivers profoundly here, working the camera with absolute precision as he captures the raw emotion exuding from the film's many players, all of whom carry an essential aspect of the large scale narrative.
Opening with a quick-paced montage that metaphorically captures the hustle and bustle of New York City, the film beautifully showcases the era's retro styling. The move fully embodies the identity of master television creator Ryan Murphy, who serves as a producer on this adaptation. The iconic clothes and set pieces are magical as Murphy's showy touch helps set the scene. That touch doesn't extend for the duration of the picture as things quickly settle, evolving into a dialogue-heavy ensemble piece that is equally witty and charismatic.
Mantello does personalize the film by way of a few flashbacks; however, they don't add much to the story. Thankfully, they're not overly distracting either. For the most part, he twists and turns his way amongst the stellar ensemble, focusing on the bitchy, high-energy exchanges that range from heated anger, unapologetic sarcasm, and everything in-between.
The film, or much of it anyways, rests on the shoulders of Jim Parsons, as Michal, the vibrant host of the party. A desperate people-pleaser in nearly every extent of the term, Michael is a complex character who works to keep things simple. He whisks around his apartment, entertaining his guests with a forced smile; that is until he gets a call from his straight college friend Alan (Brian Hutchison). Alan is unexpectedly in town for work and is seeking Michael's company in response to a personal issue he has, one we are not entirely made aware of.
Though Michael often controls the picture, Alan's interactions with the houseguests quickly take center stage. That's until Michael recaptures everyone's attention by way of a game that fully displays the toxic nature that rests deep within his soul. It's impressive, watching Parsons slowly disrobe Michael's outer framework, reveling a frustrated, lonely, and empty intellect that is as unaccepting of himself as the world is around him.
In 2020 the dialogue is, quite often, heavy. It's hard to imagine the effect it had on audiences during its initial run. Though the film loses its stamina about halfway through, and there isn't nearly enough time spent on Andrew Rannells' Larry (to be fair, the stage play keeps his storyline surface level), The Boys in the Band is, to a fault, a faithful adaptation. In this day and age, a reincarnation would have allowed the project to have a bit more impact.
*This film is streaming globally on Netflix.