The Boys in the Band (4 stars)

The Boys in the Band

A landmark of queer culture gets a big screen revival in this enjoyable and insightful drama

Sometimes it's our friends who hurt us the most. 'One could murder you with very little effort,' party host Michael (Jim Parsons) informs pal Emory (Robin de Jesus), for no good reason. It's just one of many such remarks – funny on the face of it, but cut through with cruelty – in this adaptation of Mart Crowley's groundbreaking 1968 play, set at a New York birthday bash at which a group of gay men have gathered. It stars the full cast from the 2018 Broadway revival, whose rhythmic, rat-a-tat banter has been practised to perfection.

Directed by Joe Mantello, with Crowley collaborating on the screenplay with Ned Martel, despite an attempt to insert some fluidity into proceedings, this take on The Boys in the Band (it was previously brought to screen by William Friedkin in 1970) doesn't feel wildly cinematic, with portions of the dialogue erring on the unconvincing side too. However, it makes up for it in intensity and astuteness, convincingly capturing the challenge of being gay in a fiercely intolerant time, what shame and self-loathing does to a person, alongside the thrill of safe spaces and the double-edged sword of friends with which you can be, perhaps too, honest.

If Michael becomes an increasingly drunken and mean-spirited host, he's not the only one with problems. The promiscuous Larry (Andrew Rannells from Girls) is causing a headache for his recently out partner Hank (Tuc Watkins), while birthday-boy Harold (Zachary Quinto) is so formidably withering he cools the climate of the room on entry. Matt Bomer and Michael Benjamin Washington have their parts to play, but it's the arrival of Michael's straight former college buddy, Brian Hutchison's Alan, that really throws the cat amongst the pigeons.

Home truths damage like knife wounds and the cast deliver their lines with vigour. The insight into the attitudes of the time is fascinating and, given that we haven't come as far as we'd like, it has painful modern relevance too. But, for all its importance, it's also an awful lot of fun. It's easy to get swept up in the sniping, joviality and intrigue, as celebration turns to recriminations and the evening comes apart at the seams.

Available to watch on Netflix from Wed 30 Sep.

The Boys in the Band

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 2h 1min
  • Directed by: Joe Mantello
  • Cast: Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesús, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington, Tuc Watkins
  • UK release: 30 September 2020