A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Boys in the Band is based on the 1968 Mart Crowley play. With its frontal nudity, candid sexual talk, drinking, marijuana use, and mature language, this is a frank vision. Adults drink alcohol excessively and smoke cigarettes and marijuana. Other drugs are mentioned. Nude men are seen kissing. Genitals are seen briefly and partly obscured. One-night stands are mentioned. Some dated stereotypes about gay men are presented. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "c--t," "pr--k," "d--k," "bitch," "queen," "pansy," "sissy," "nellie," "fairy, " f--got," the "N" word, "Uncle Tom," "queer," "ass," "hell," "balls," "douche," "t-ts," "blow," "phallic," and "rimming."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Michael (Jim Parsons) is throwing a 32nd birthday party for his old friend Harold (Zachary Quinto) as THE BOYS IN THE BAND begins. A collection of friends attend, including Michael's depressed ex-lover Donald (Matt Bomer), a buoyant Emory (Robin de Jesus), Hank (Tuc Watkins), who's recently left his wife and kids for the proudly-promiscuous player Larry (Andrew Rannells), and Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), whose past includes the shame of hidden gayness as well as the indignities of racism. Michael's college roommate, the seemingly-straight, married-with-kids Alan (Brian Hutchinson), arrives unexpectedly with his own private challenges. As the guests drink and smoke more, past conflicts arise and old resentments are called up.
Is it any good?
While the original stage version was ground-breaking for 1968, this film adaptation is not. Today The Boys in the Band feels dated and tired, like a museum diorama depicting quaint practices and rituals from ancient times. Some truths from the Mart Crowley play, however inarguable, lie lifeless and unhelpful here, especially compared to two other sharp and heartbreaking gay dramas also set in the past -- Brokeback Mountain and Call Me by Your Name. Even the 1961 Basil Dearden work, Victim, one of the first English-language films to use the word "homosexual," feels more relevant and meaningful for today's audiences than Boys. Given the messages from family, employers, the religious world, and society, it's unsurprising that the men here are filled with anxiety and self loathing. This piece was written before the author could anticipate the horror of the AIDS crisis only a decade away, but the film can't be viewed today without that eventuality looming.
Given enduring negative attitudes toward gays, as well as against immigrants and people of color, the most useful takeaway here may be that marginalizing any community destroys lives and hurts people. Gay rights may protect some people, but there are still many places in the world where retribution remains harsh and even fatal. Look for the film's brightest spark of life in the form of Robin de Jesus as Emory. He reins in the clichés, showing instead nuanced emotion, an irrepressible optimism, and a foundation of decency. A little bit of that can take a movie far.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the theme of self loathing that permeates The Boys in the Band. How much do you think the gay self loathing portrayed here was at least partly a result of rejection by "mainstream" society in 1968? Do you think things have changed in the community today? Why or why not?
Do you think the legalization of gay marriage, as well as legalizing gays in the military and the more widespread portrayals in mainstream media, have made gayness seem more ordinary and acceptable in the years since this story first came out? Why or why not?
Do you think acceptance of difference, in family and in society, is a social good? Why or why not?
- On DVD or streaming: September 30, 2020
- Cast: Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Robin de Jesus, Brian Hutchinson, Michael Benjamin Washington
- Director: Joe Mantello
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for sexual content, language, some graphic nudity and drug use
- Last updated: October 6, 2020
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