The Boys in the Band Is 2020's Marriage Story
Netflix's The Boys in the Bandcould prove to be this year's Marriage Story. The adaptation of the crucial Broadway stage play looks set to net the streaming service some well-earned gold come awards season. Bittersweet, uplifting, and devastating in equal measure, Netflix's The Boys in the Band is an adaptation of the seminal Broadway play of the same name. Retaining the cast of the play's 2018 revival, the film stars the likes of Zachary Quinto, Andrew Rannells, and Jim Parsons as a group of gay friends reuniting for a birthday party in a New York loft, only to be surprised by an unexpected arrival.Click the button below to start this article in quick view. Start now
A snapshot of queer culture during the tumultuous decade of its creation, the late 1960s, The Boys in the Band is famous for humanizing a subculture who until that point had scarcely been seen onstage or onscreen. The few times gay characters cropped up in media pre-1970 they were almost always only implied to be gay and their very existence was treated as a punchline or oftentimes as proof of their irredeemable villainy (save for a few notable, brave exceptions). This groundbreaking story was a revolutionary text thanks to its unabashed focus on queer antiheroes, imperfect gay men who the play and subsequent film adaptations portrayed as complex, human characters deserving of empathy and compassion.
So what's the comparison between the play's updated movie adaptation and last year's Noah Baumbach drama Marriage Story? Well, both films are Netflix's attempts at earning Oscar attention for their in-house production efforts. Both movies also opt to eschew the high-budget ambitions of Beasts of No Nation and The Irishman to focus on smaller, more intimate character studies. Both are limited in their instances of flashy cinematic verve, choosing instead to stage their action much like a play with a handful of locations, long takes, and frequent dramatic dialogues and monologues alike which require their casts to do the heavy lifting of holding onto the audience's attention.
What's vital is that both films succeed in this endeavor, taking skilled actors well-known for their more mainstream blockbuster performances and cramming them into small, sparse locations to focus entirely on their dramatic prowess. Uncompromising through to its ambiguous ending, Marriage Story sinks or swims based on the performances of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson and both stars manage to move from their effects-heavy work in the Avengers and Star Wars franchises to shine in a small-scale domestic drama. Similarly, The Boys in the Band pulls its cast from the likes of Star Trek and The Big Bang Theory to evince deeply moving, subtle, and powerful turns from actors best known until now as Spock (or Sylar) and Sheldon Cooper respectively.
It's this impressive feat that the two films share and one which is almost guaranteed to garner attention come awards season. Putting popular performers in roles more subtle and evocative than they're used to is a risky gambit which often pays off with deserved dividends for daring productions like these, and the cast of both The Boys in the Band and Marriage Story share an admirable ability to move out of their comfort zone and into intensely claustrophobic, harrowing stage play style stories where they're able to remind viewers of their depth, complexity, and charm anew.
Without the (perfectly enjoyable and often fun) frameworks of big-budget blockbusters and massively popular TV shows to distract audiences these performers get the chance to remind viewers of their raw talent. It's an opportunity seized by Marriage Story's Best Supporting Actor winner Laura Dern last year and epitomized this year by Parsons' heartbreaking, charismatic, and revelatory (not to mention Oscar-worthy) turn as The Boys in the Band's troubled antihero Michael.