Movie Review: “The Boys in the Band”

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Released by Netflix in late September, “The Boys in the Band” features a birthday party gathering in 1968 New York, following a group of friends over the evening as a drunken party game reveals unspoken feelings and hidden truths. 

“The Boys in the Band” has a long history. It originally debuted as an off-broadway play, written by Mart Crowley, in 1968. The play – which successfully put gay men’s lives onstage in a time when the world was not fully willing to accept them – was adapted to a film in 1970. For its 50th anniversary in 2018, the play was revived on Broadway, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. The 2020 feature film showcases the same cast as the 2018 revival, with Ryan Murphy taking the role of producer and Crowly as a screenwriter. 

The cast is comprised of exclusively openly-gay actors: Jim Parsons – known for his role as Sheldon Cooper in “The Big Bang Theory” – takes the lead as Michael. Known previously for his various roles in “American Horror Story,” Zachary Quinto is Harold, the man for whom the birthday party is being thrown. 

The rest of the ensemble cast features Matt Bomer as Donald, who has moved from the city as he is undergoing psychoanalysis; Andrew Rannells as Larry, the commercial artist who prefers having multiple partners; Charlie Carver as Cowboy, a hustler and one of Harold’s birthday presents; Robin de Jesus as Emory, an effeminate interior designer; Brian Hutchison as Alan, one of Michael’s college friends; Michael Benjamin Washington as Bernard, a librarian and Tuc Watkins as Hank, Larry’s boyfriend who is going through a divorce with his wife. 

The eclectic cast of characters makes for an interesting party as watchers discover more about the characters and their relationships throughout the evening. The acting is masterful, and each man brings something new and important to the story as the night progresses. Without the expertise of the actors, this movie would have fallen flat as it is extremely character-driven. That being said, no matter the skill of the actors, the characters must be immaculately written, especially for a story that could pass as a character study, as all of the characters are complex enough that they could each have their turn at center stage.

The script feels like a masterpiece, every character’s lines perfectly encapsulating their essence. True to its roots as a play, some characters have what could pass as monologues. This movie would be easy for one to feel bored by. All of its action takes place in one apartment, and without a script as masterful as this, it would have been boring. Luckily, the actors are excellent at delivering the lines written for their respective, intriguing characters.

Besides the actors on screen, the film is beautiful. The colors of the film, especially those of the bright clothes worn by the characters, are wonderful to look at – they bring life to the screen and help to form the characters. The camera work is excellent, with nine characters to feature, most shots show more than one character. Each man gets a fair share of screentime, never allowing the viewer to forget about the other men in the room even as one is being featured at the time. It is a beautiful film, every shot coming together colorfully, and is easy on the eyes, maintaining interest for the viewers as the film progresses.

The music choice of the film, sometimes a lesser aspect of films, especially those of realistic fiction, is something that caught my attention. Most of the film has no background music. Instead, the movie is filled with the character’s voices, background noise of rain and a ticking clock. This choice is one that was perfect for the film, creating an intense atmosphere, one that is probably imitating the tension of the theatrical productions. At the end of the film, a song starts up, Chet Baker’s “Alone Together,” a song that perfectly encapsulates the end of the film and adds another layer to the now somber atmosphere. 

This film is definitely one to watch and one of the best Netflix has produced recently. It’s intriguing, character-driven and intense throughout the evening it portrays. The characters are immaculate, and the actors portray them expertly while the film itself is wonderful to look at. Overall, Netflix has done masterful work with this film and is definitely one I would recommend.

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