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NEW YORK (CNS) -- It may be hard to imagine now, but back in 1968, one way to stir controversy was to write a play about homosexuals. Mart Crowley did so, and the result was an off-Broadway hit and a successful 1970 film helmed by William Friedkin.
Fifty years on, director Joe Mantello staged a Broadway revival that he has now adapted into "The Boys in the Band" (Netflix). Unfortunately, his inclusion of extraneous scenes that feel gratuitous pushes what might have been a mature but acceptable movie over the moral edge.
These additions aside, Crowley's original text may be a plea for tolerance. But it is decidedly not a polemic about the joys of same-sex attraction.
Indeed, while some of the publicity material suggests that the takeaway from the new production is that the success of the movement for gay rights has solved all the dysfunction and self-loathing Crowley lays bare, the script itself indicates otherwise. It presents a homosexual orientation as a lifelong curse that cannot be evaded. Ironically, that's a far more daring message today than it was in the late 60s.
The vehicle for introducing the audience to life as a gay man is a birthday party screenwriter Michael (Jim Parsons) gives at his New York apartment for his formidable frenemy Harold (Zachary Quinto). This soiree degenerates first into an insult fest and then into an emotional power struggle between the host and his guest of honor.
Complicating matters is the unexpected presence of Alan (Brian Hutchison), a heterosexual friend from Michael's college days. Michael has successfully concealed his lifestyle from his old chum. When the latter arrives to find the all-male partygoers dancing in a chorus line, however, the jig is pretty well up.
Michael struggles with alcoholism and a habit of living beyond his means. Harold bemoans his ugly appearance and the fact that he can no longer attract youthful partners.
Among the guests, Emory (Robin de Jesus) is compulsively campy; math teacher Hank is in the process of divorcing his wife and passes for straight despite his live-in arrangement with commercial artist Larry (Andrew Rannells); while Donald (Matt Bomer), Michael's lover-turned-pal, comes to Gotham weekly for sessions with his analyst.
Librarian Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), for his part, has to cope with the double whammy of being African American as well as gay. Things are not exactly coming up roses for any of these folks.
Mantello highlights the conflicted relationship Michael maintains with his Catholic faith. Though obviously unwilling to embrace the church's solution to his difficulty, a life of sacrificial chastity in union with the Lord's self-offering on the Cross, Michael knows Catholic life well enough to be aware of the regular midnight Mass that was once a hallmark of Manhattan's St. Malachy's - the Actors' Chapel.
Other aspects of the proceedings are less appealing. One of Harold's birthday gifts is a male stripper/prostitute known as Cowboy (Charlie Carver). He's as dumb as he is good-looking and is roundly abused by Michael and the others for his dull wittedness, though this doesn't prevent Harold from being willing to exploit him sexually.
A scene in which Michael subtly spies on Donald while he's taking a shower could be justified as symbolizing the furtiveness of homosexual life before Stonewall. But flashbacks to two characters having sex and another skinny-dipping, in youth, with a teenage boy for whom he pined are wholly unnecessary to the story.
Additionally, the dialogue is peppered with an excessive number of profanities. Taken together, these discordant notes make "The Boys in the Band" (Netflix) unacceptable for movie fans of any age.
The film contains strong sexual content, including semi-graphic homosexual activity and full nudity, drug use, pervasive profane and crude talk and occasional rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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"The Boys in the Band" (Netflix)
Second film version of Mart Crowley's gay-themed 1968 play in which a screenwriter (Jim Parsons) gives a birthday party at his New York apartment for a formidable frenemy (Zachary Quinto) that degenerates first into an insult fest and then into an emotional power struggle between the two. Along the way, the troubles besetting the lives of the ensemble of homosexual pals at the gathering are put on display both for the audience and for a heterosexual friend from the host's college days (Brian Hutchison) who unexpectedly turns up amid the self-loathing-tinged festivities. In adapting his 2018 Broadway revival, director Joe Mantello highlights the conflicted relationship Parsons' character maintains with his Catholic faith but also includes extraneous scenes that feel gratuitous and push an otherwise mature but acceptable film over the moral edge. Strong sexual content, including semi-graphic homosexual activity and full nudity, drug use, pervasive profane and crude talk, occasional rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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"The Boys in the Band" (Netflix) -- Catholic News Service classification, O -- morally offensive. Motion Picture Association rating, R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.