Theatre / The Boys in the Band
I don't understand any of it, I never did.
Michael: What's so fucking funny?
Harold: Life. Life's a goddamn laugh riot.
Michael, a gay recovering alcoholic
, along with friend and sometime lover Donald, is throwing a party for his buddy Harold's 32nd birthday. The guests include flaming queen Emory and his best friend
Bernard, seemingly straight
schoolteacher Hank and his monogamy-impaired lover Larry, and "Cowboy
", Emory's gift for the guest of honor. However, their fun is cut short by the arrival of an unexpected party guest - Alan, Michael's questionably heterosexual college chum. This, along with Michael falling Off the Wagon
, leads to a night of soul-searching and all of the guests being forced to confront the most uncomfortable aspects of themselves.The Boys in the Band
is an off-Broadway play written by Mart Crowley which premiered in 1968. It was faithfully adapted into a film (starring the original stage cast) by William Friedkin
in 1970. When it first opened, it was notable for the being first mainstream play (and film) to treat homosexuality in a direct and realistic way rather than cloaking it in subtext or portraying the characters as freaks. Furthermore, to quote Vito Russo, "The internalized guilt of eight gay men at a Manhattan birthday party formed the best and most potent argument for gay liberation ever offered in a popular art form.
As it turned out, it was gay liberation itself that made The Boys In The Band
go from being groundbreaking and revolutionary to a being a nasty relic of the Bad Old Daysô in the near instant, thanks to its bad timing. While the play was released in 1968, the Stonewall Riots occured in 1969 - and the film had the bad sense to be released in 1970 during the height of gay liberation. For years, it was often demonized
as being not only dated, but flagrantly offensive. Over time, however, it's been re-vindicated by history
, with more and more people recognizing it as a classic, eventually leading to a stage revival in 1996
and a long overdue DVD release in 2008.
Despite its reputation for being a "period piece", most of the issues addressed (internalized homophobia, effemiphobia, etc.) remain relevant to this day, and the characters seems as real as they were 40 years ago. Plus, it's hilarious, endlessly quotable, and genuinely poignant, if not always easy viewing. Check it out if you get a chance.
- Accidental Misnaming:
Michael: (to Alan) My name is Michael. I am called Michael. You must never call anyone called Michael "Mickey". Those of us who are named Michael are very nervous about it.
- Always Camp: Emory is an interior decorator and Harold's a former figure skater.
- Ambiguously Gay: Alan, although he says that he's straight.
- Author Avatar: Michael is Mart Crowley's self-admitted Author Avatar. All of the characters represent Crowley, according to an interview.
- Badass Boast:
- Badass Gay: Harold is the Queen Bee and don't you forget it.
- Berserk Button: Let's just say that Alan doesn't like Emory's "kind of talk."
- For Bernard, anyone but him and Emory making racist cracks about black people.
- Better as Friends: Michael and Donald.
Michael: (sings) Just friends, lovers no more.
- Bi the Way: Hank, who has a "decided preference" for men
- Brainless Beauty: Cowboy, in the film adaptation, a fact that everyone else keeps bringing up in his presence. On the other hand, he didn't know what lasagna is. The stage version isn't as naive or ditzy.
- Breakfast Club
- Bury Your Gays: "It's not always the way it is in plays. Not all faggots bump themselves off at the end of the story!"
- Camp Gay: Most of the characters to varying degrees, but especially Emory. Done in a "laughing with" way rather than the usual "laughing at", and the characters are treated as people rather than as simple caricatures.
- Chewing the Scenery: Michael has quite the craving for scenery.
- Chromosome Casting: A male example.
- Coming-Out Story: Hank, who's in the process of divorcing his wife that he cheated on to be with Larry.
- Country Matters: A Running Gag.
Michael: Sunt! That's French, with a cedilla.
- Darkest Hour: Most of the second half.
- Deadpan Snarker: Harold. Extra emphasis on the "snarker" part.
- Michael also is an artist at "the read", but Harold out-snarks him.
- Dramedy: With quite a bit of Mood Whiplash between the comedic and dramatic aspects.
- Dysfunction Junction
- Establishing Character Moment: Harold has quite the memorable entrance.
- Fire-Forged Friends / Odd Friendship: Emory and Alan, which is snarked drunkenly at by Michael.
Michael: Christ, now you're both joined at the goddamned hip!
- Five-Token Band: As noted by Pauline Kael, the characters are like a "40's movie bomber-crew."
- Flaw Exploitation: Michael and Harold are experts. Unfortunately for the former, the latter is better at it and gives him one hell of a "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
- Gallows Humor: Michael declares that the lasagna the group are eating is actually Sebastian Venable. The Cowboy doesn't know the reference - told, he remarks, "Jesus..."
- Gayngst: By the truckload.
- The Heart: Harold, all of it hidden beneath his Deadpan Snarker and Gallows Humor persona.
- It takes several viewings to realize this about Harold. On first viewing, he looks more like a Stepford Smiler.
- Hidden Depths: "I may be nelly, Michael, but I'm no coward."
- Informed Judaism: Harold
- In Vino Veritas: Michael's one nasty, self-loathing drunk.
Harold: (on Michael) Beware the hostile fag. When he's sober, he's dangerous. When he drinks, he's lethal.
- Jade-Colored Glasses. Harold, though he literally wears purple glasses.
- Jerk Ass: Michael, once he gets drunk
- The Lancer: Harold to Michael.
- Less Embarrassing Term: "Notice nowhere is it called hair spray — just simply, 'Control.' And the words 'For Men' are written about thirty-seven times all over the goddamn can."
- Literary Allusion Title: The title comes from A Star Is Born.
- Lovable Alpha Bitch: Harold.
- Harold is in many ways the group's Team Mom: He reassures Emory about his cooking when no one else does, makes sure Bernard will be taken care of, defends Cowboy from moments of bullying — all while remaining the master Deadpan Snarker.
- Love Hurts: A key theme throughout the play/movie, especially during the harrowing telephone game.
- Manly Gay: Hank. Speaks in a deep voice, introduces himself with a firm handshake, used to play college basketball, and is shown shooting hoops in the film's opening montage. He is also married with two children, though in the process of getting a divorce.
- The Masochism Tango: Emory and Bernard, Michael and Donald. Michael and Harold? Is there a Sadism Tango?
- Mood Whiplash
- Mr. Fanservice: Robert La Tourneaux as Cowboy.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Michael''s "icks" attack at the end.
- Noodle Incident: Something happened between Alan and Justin Stewart, but exactly what is never learned.
- Not That There's Anything Wrong with That: Alan's unconvincing attempt to tell Michael that he has nothing against homosexuality.
- Of course, the theory that Alan is a closet queen adds an interesting subtext.
- N-Word Privileges: Emory, literally, but all of the characters have no trouble calling each other "fags" and other slurs - with no malice at first. Lampshaded by Michael when he drunkenly rants at Alan some dated gay slurs like "sodomite".
- Invoked by Bernard at Michael.
Michael: Well, thatís a knee-slapper! I love your telling him about dignity when you allow him to degrade you constantly by Uncle Tom-ing you to death.
Bernard: He can do it, Michael. I can do it. But you canít do it.
Michael: Isnít that discrimination?
Bernard: I donít like it from him and I donít like it from me Ė but I do it myself and I let him do it. I let him do it because itís the only thing that, to him, makes him my equal. We both got the short end of the stick Ė but I got a hell of a lot more than he did and he knows it. I let him Uncle Tom me just so he can tell himself heís not a complete loser.
- However, when Bernard is on the phone with his crush's mother, he tells her, "It's Bernard. Francine's boy." Emory injects, "Son, not boy."
- Off the Wagon. Michael has stopped drinking for five weeks, to prevent anxiety attacks, but falls off the wagon - hard - during Harold's birthday party.
- Parallel Porn Titles: Boys in the Sand, a landmark gay porn film.
- Parlor Games: Michael pressures the guests into a playing a game which involves calling the one person they truly believe they've loved and telling them how they feel. This does not go down well.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: The play was revived in the UK in 2016, with Mark Gatiss as Harold. While promoting the production on TV, he said that gay men often quote lines from the play without realising it.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: "Anything Goes" in the film.
- Real Time
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
Harold: Now it's my turn, and ready or not, Michael, here goes:
you're a sad and pathetic man. You're a homosexual and you don't want to be, but there's nothing you can do to change it. Not all the prayers to your God, not all the analysis you can buy, in all the years you've got left to live. You may one day be able to know a heterosexual life - if you want it desperately enough, if you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate. But you'll always be homosexual as well. Always Michael. Always. Until the day you die.
- Recycled In Space. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? WITH GAYS!
- Schiff One-Liner: "As my father said to me when he died in my arms, 'I don't understand any of it. I never did.'"
- The '60s
- Society Marches On: An interesting example. The play first ran in 1968. The Stonewall Riots occurred in 1969, changing the views of homosexuality from a disease to a sexual orientation. The film appeared in 1970, and even in 1970 it was a window into the psychiatric self-loathing of gays pre-Stonewall that at the time was Too Soon to examine. A few decades later, despite the datedness of some of the psychiatric attitudes, almost all of the actual personalities and dialog still ring true in the 21st Century.
- The Stoner: Harold. "What I am, Michael, is a 32 year-old, ugly, pockmarked Jew fairy, and if it takes me a little while to pull myself together, and if I smoke a little grass before I get up the nerve to show my face to the world, it's nobody's goddamned business but my own. And how are you this evening?"
- Tall, Dark and Handsome: Larry and Hank in the movie - especially to Alan who compliments the latter on his good looks. Alan himself is very good looking in the film as well.
- Tall, Dark and Snarky: HAROLD. Michael is this too, but he's a far second to the queen bee himself.
- Technology Marches On: Much of the problems in the film would have been solved had cell phones existed.
- Three-Way Sex: Hank and Larry experimented with it. Neither likes it.
- Token Minority: Bernard
- The sequel The Men From the Boys adds an Asian named Rick.
- Unusual Euphemism: Michael refers to anxiety attacks as "icks".
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Michael and Harold. While it isn't clear they are best friends, two moments reveal their deep relationship: Michael's gift to Harold, and Harold's quiet assurance after giving him the above "The Reason You Suck" Speech "I'll call you tomorrow."
- Emory and Bernard are a type two example. Emory is apparently the only white guy allowed to make black jokes about Bernard, because to Bernard it shows that Emory views him as an equal.
- Village Bicycle: Larry, much to Hank's frustration.
- Volleying Insults
- Where Da White Women At?: A variant of this is done with Bernard, a gay black man in love with a wealthy, straight white man that his family worked for.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The question of whether Alan is straight or closeted, and what he was sobbing about when he called Michael early in the film is never answered - deliberately.
- With Friends Like These...