There are plenty of hit Broadway productions that are aching to be translated to film. Conversely, there are tons of shows that really have no need for a cinematic adaptation. It’s the ones that fall in between which present a paradox for creatives. Adapt it right and you could have something special. Do it in more of a flawed way and folks will struggle to understand what made he production a success in the first place. The Boys in the Band is one such example of a Broadway translation caught in no man’s land. Strong acting mixes a muddled filmmaking execution to form a flawed yet sporadically compelling new Netflix release. Some may love it. Some may hate it. Most will be left somewhere in between.
The movie is an adaptation of the Broadway smash of the same name (as well as the prior motion picture). It’s a drama, set in New York City during 1968, a time where being gay was still often a secret. One evening, a group of friends meet for a birthday party, being thrown by Michael (Jim Parsons) at his apartment. The gathering is taking place in honor of the sharp-dressed and even sharper-tongued Harold (Zachary Quinto), who has a cutting remark for all. The rest of the attendees at the party include Michael’s ex Donald (Matt Bomer), who is struggling with mental health dilemmas, as well as Larry (Andrew Rannells) and Hank (Tuc Watkins). The former is a horny artist, while the latter is a teacher who has just left his wife. There’s also librarian Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), Emory (Robin de Jesús), a decorator who never holds back from telling you what’s on his mind, and a dim hustler (Charlie Carver) hired to be Harold’s gift for the entire night. For a bit, they all interact, awaiting the arrival of Harold. The drinking and revelry is turned upside down when Alan (Brian Hutchison), Michael’s straight college roommate, shows up unexpectedly. Drama ensues, with their friendships even potentially threatened. Joe Mantello directs a screenplay by Mart Crowley and Ned Martel, based on Crowley’s original stage work. Bill Pope handles the cinematography.
Without question, the cast are the highlight here. From top to bottom, they dive into the roles and leave their mark. Jim Parsons relishes the dramatic role, for sure, while Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannels, and Zachary Quinto are clearly enjoying themselves. Michael Benjamin Washington is the highlight for yours truly, but each more than do their part. If anything, they over-perform, putting more of a strain on director Joe Mantello, who doesn’t quite do enough to make this a cinematic experience.
The Boys in the Band only fails because Mantello leaves this feeling far too stage-y of a work. Mart Crowley and Ned Martel’s script certainly has that feel, but it was on the director to find a way to open things up, which he never quite manages to do. Because of this, very little of what happens comes off as natural. Crowley and Martel have several monologues for their actors to perform, and while they’re well written, Mantello and DP Bill Pope don’t capture them in ways that suggest a movie. Instead, it’s an experience that mostly makes you want to watch it on Broadway.
Now streaming on Netflix, The Boys in the Band will appeal most to those who already love the source material. First-timers to the story may well be left wondering what all of the fuss is about. Some may not, but that’s a definite concern. Regardless, it’s now playing on the streaming giant, so give it a look and make up your own mind. It just doesn’t quite have my full recommendation.
The Boys in the Band is now streaming on Netflix.
(Photos courtesy of Netflix)