The Boys in the Band review: Jim Parsons leads an airtight ensemble

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 09: Andrew Rannells, Zachary Quinto, Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer attend the 73rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 9, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 09: Andrew Rannells, Zachary Quinto, Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer attend the 73rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 9, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions) /

Jim Parsons leads an airtight ensemble cast in Joe Mantello’s The Boys in the Band, an affecting adaption of the Broadway play about a group of gay men celebrating a friend’s birthday.

Although we’ve been wary of any Netflix project with Ryan Murphy’s name attached recently (we’re looking at you, Ratched), we couldn’t help but anticipate the release of The Boys in the Band, the second film adaption of the iconic Broadway play of the same name. While at times it’s painfully obvious that the film was adapted from a play — there are very few attempts at embellishment or increases in scope — that’s fine by us, because every member of the film’s impressive cast is in top form, making for a two-hour drama that practically flies by.

The film follows the tumultuous events of one night on New York City’s Upper East Side, where seven gay men celebrate their friend’s birthday, which quickly goes off the rails and turns into an evening of tension and drama when the host Michael’s (Jim Parsons) “straight” friend from college shows up. Like many stage-to-screen adaptions, the film takes place almost entirely in one central location (in this case, Michael’s apartment), and relies heavily on the strength of its script and the charisma of its cast to keep the story chugging forward.

Luckily for The Boys in the Band, the film has both in spades. There’s a reason the film was adapted before — all the way back in 1970, just two years after it premiered on Broadway. The script, for the most part, is airtight. Play adaptions often tend to feel like they drag on. After all, live theatre can sometimes be on the upwards of three hours. But The Boys in the Band is filled to the brim with quips and zingers that the film passes at a nearly breakneck pace.

Not everything has aged perfectly — Michael’s racism, in particular, was a plot point not nearly significant enough to the plot to justify its inclusion, especially because it goes virtually unaddressed outside of Michael getting slapped on the wrist any time he utters a slur.

For the most part though, The Boys in the Band holds up remarkably well. Sure, some of the slang is a little dated, but that only adds to the period authenticity of it all. Once the jokes start they don’t stop coming — even when things take a more tragic, grounded turn. But the reason the constant whiplash of tone works is because of the supremely impressive cast.

The film’s IMDb page is a veritable who’s who of gay actors: Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Zachary Quinto, Andrew Rannells, and Charlie Carver, as well as Robin de Jesús, Michael Benjamin Washington, and  Tuc Watkins who round out the dysfunctional group of friends. Brian Hutchinson plays the film’s (literal) straight man, and we can say with confidence that not a single member of this stacked cast is caught slacking.

By virtue of the fact that it’s an ensemble, a few players end up falling into the background more than others. Michael Benjamin Washington’s Bernard and Matt Bomer’s Donald suffer worst from this fate — but even they give impressive performances for the few moments that focus on them. The film’s second act follows the friends as they play a party game where everyone present is challenged to call whoever it is that they’re most in love with, and while Bernard on the whole isn’t a particularly memorable character, his phone call scene is one of the film’s most moving.

Jim Parsons, of course, is given the biggest chance to shine in the starring role. He does the part of Michael justice, but we didn’t find his performance particularly stellar. He’s certainly not bad, but the strength of his performance lies mostly in the strength of the material. We also weren’t all that impressed with Zachary Quinto’s Harold, the birthday boy, who gets a dramatic entrance and is set up to be much more impressive and important than he actually is. Although Quinto does get some of the film’s snarkiest quips, his character is relatively shallow and never gets the chance to display the emotional range most of the others do.

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In our eyes, the cast’s true standouts are Andrew Rannells (Larry) and Tuc Watkins (Hank), who play a pair of lovers with different ideas and hopes about where their relationship stands. Admittedly, we have a soft spot for Rannells, whose performance and character here bares a striking resemblance to that of his scene-stealer Whizzer in Falsettos on Broadway. However, coupled up with Watkins, the duo are pitch-perfect. They have such obvious affection for each other, but neither truly seems to understand how to convey it in a way the other will understand. It’s almost how tragic how in love they are, and Watkins and Rannells ring the script to its last emotional drop.

Our other standout has much less depth to him, but he wouldn’t have it any other way: Charlie Carver as Cowboy, the escort(?) that Emory gifts to Harold as a birthday present. He’s endearingly idiotic, adorable in clueless in a way that you can’t help but love. Carver, who was one of the few high points of Ratched, does a total 180 in terms of tone here. His character plays entirely for comedy, but there isn’t a single line of his that doesn’t land.

Under a less capable director and with a less talented cast, The Boys in the Band could’ve failed miserably in maintaining the electricity and urgency of the original play. But this is one of the few nearly flawless film adaptions we can completely endorse. Thanks to Andrew Rannells, Tuc Watkins, and Charlie Carver, The Boys in the Band is just as funny and affecting now as it was 52 years ago.

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Have you seen The Boys in the Band? What’s your favorite Broadway adaption? Sound off in the comments below.