Ryan Murphy has built up a quite the resume over the past decade or so. With television hits like American Horror Story, Pose and American Crime Story, the mega Producer was signed by Netflix in a sizable deal to create original content for the streaming giant. The first major film of that deal is the adaptation of the late Mart Crowley’s iconic play, The Boys in the Band. The play was adapted shortly after its premiere by William Freidkin in 1970, the film which is now largely considered a pioneer of Queer cinema. Taking a cue after Friedkin’s film, this revival stars all of the same actors from the stage production, this time from the 2018 Broadway revival.
Michael (Jim Parsons) and his recently reunited old flame, Donald (Matt Bomer) are preparing an extravagant birthday party for the high maintenance Harold (Zachary Quinto). Things get complicated, however, when Michael’s old college roommate Alan, (Brian Hutchinson), an old-fashioned, conservative man stops by the party unannounced. After several drinks, personalities and ideologies clash along one fateful night.
Jim Parsons gives his best dramatic performance to date as the insecure, Michael. The raw, vulnerability mixed with moments of humor represents the best showcase of Parsons abilities as an actor. Matt Bomer makes for a welcoming presence as does Robin de Jesus’s flamboyant, yet layered, Emory. Andrew Rannells and Tuc Watkins (a real-life couple) share a fiery dynamic as Larry and Hank, a couple who don’t see eye-to-eye regarding monogamy. Michael Benjamin Washington is another standout as Bernard. Bernard, who has enough hardships being both black and gay in the 1960’s, is a melancholic, yet enlightening character that gets several of the films more powerful moments. The weakest link in the cast is unfortunately Zachardy Quinto. Quinto, who snarls each line out like it’s his last, feels miscast and whose take on the character of Harold feels misguided.
Director Joe Mantello doesn’t quite have the technical skill to make this adaptation feel more than a cinematic-looking stage play. In particular, the impeccable production design feels too stagey and lacks the lived-in quality to separate feeling like a set instead of an actual location. Mantello’s direction is also too slick and lacks the claustrophobic atmosphere a filmmaker like Friedkin is able to bring to life, despite the strong cinematography from The Matrix DP Bill Pope.
This adaptation of The Boys in the Band is ultimately bound by its stage limitation that the director isn’t imaginative enough to avoid. Thankfully, this film retains all of Crowley’s original dialogue that stands the test of time and features impeccable performances from its cast, notably Parsons and Washington. This may not be the definitive adaptation of Crowley’s work, but still one worth checking out, especially for a new generation.