By Christian DiMartino
William Freidkin’s The Boys in the Band was released in 1970, and it was a big screen adaptation of a stage play by the same name. While not able to speak for the stage play, I saw the film adaptation last year, and it is a film that I couldn’t help but admire. For its time, it really was groundbreaking, in terms of its story, its writing, which was filled with witty one liners that sometimes had an acerbic bite to them, and its performances. The novelty of the original film, like its play and like its 2020 remake, is that all of the central cast members were openly gay. So a whopping 50 years later, it has been remade in the same tradition, which is admittedly pretty cool.
So, what’s weird is that the new The Boys in the Band is actually pretty similar to Freidkin’s The Boys in the Band, and yet this material, for me at least, doesn’t really work in 2020. Why is sort of a mystery to me. The remake of The Boys in the Band, if my memory doesn’t fail me, almost feels as if the original script was taken from off of the shelf, dusted off, and re-read. This material worked fabulously 50 years ago… what’s my problem?
Well, watching this new Boys in the Band, while it’s hard to put a finger on, it must be said that perhaps Freidkin’s film was a product of its time. Yes, this material was impressive for its time because nobody was really tackling LGBT stories in the 1960s, let alone a filmmaker as bold as Freidkin, who would go on to win the Best Director Oscar for The French Connection a year later. Yet there was more than that. Its writing was so sharp, as were its performances, that it not only added to the novelty of the material, it strengthened it. 1970 was a far more different time than 2020. In some ways better, in some ways worse.
So for whatever reason, and it is difficult to pinpoint, watching The Boys in the Band made in present day just feels… dated. This is just my opinion though; others may see this film, perhaps having not seen the original or having a strong affection for the original, and swoon. Watching this film though, it was frustrating because it does everything it’s supposed to… but it doesn’t exactly transcend or elevate the material. There are a few different artistic approaches put to work, but otherwise, it felt a movie that was made because nobody had touched this specific material in a long time. It doesn’t make the original film any less powerful, but in this day and age, it isn’t covering much in the way of new ground.
Jim Parsons, pretty strong in anything outside of The Big Bang Theory, is Michael, the one hosting the big gay soiree for Harold (Zachary Quinto). Harold, like Michael, is gay, and so are the rest of their friends, and all of them are getting together for one big, gay, drunken bash. Michael is kind of thrown for a tizzy early into the proceedings though when he receives a phone call from an old college roommate, Alan (Brian Hutchison), who calls him crying and wanting to see him. Michael invites him to the party, but of course with obvious skepticism: Alan is quite straight, and he will be the only straight man in the room. Yet Alan, despite his hysterics, bows out.
So the party marches on, with Michael and company (Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesus, Michael Benjamin Washington, and Tuc Watkins) drinking and dancing the night away. The man of the hour, Harold, has yet to arrive. Yet Michael is thrown for even more a tizzy whenever Alan, despite cancelling, shows up to the party anyways. Alan’s presence causes tensions to rise to the surface, and some of his comments even send Michael, who is typically pretty calm and reserved, over the surface.
The acting here is quite fine. The material also still has some sharp zingers. Again though, the issue with this film is just difficult for me to grasp. Because while the performances do work, something does feel off about the delivery of the dialogue from time to time. Even if the dialogue is excellent, it doesn’t always feel natural. A big part of this is perhaps because the material is over fifty years old. There also isn’t really anything done with it that wasn’t done before, so again the film gives off the vibe that the filmmakers found the original script, blew the dust off of it, and said, “alright, let’s go.”
Freidkin’s The Boys in the Band was perhaps a film of its time, but it’s still a great film of its time. The new Boys in the Band feels like the reheated leftovers.