I resisted watching the new Netflix movie “The Boys in the Band,” since the original has lived in my memory as a portrait of doom. Mart Crowley’s 1968 play and the 1970 movie based on it (directed by William Friedkin) are famously unhappy portraits of what it meant to be a gay man in the late 1960s — lonely, depressed, snippy, and self-loathing, mostly.
But now, “The Boys in the Band” feels less suffocating. For one thing, gay representation is broad enough to make this story, with its addled men, one of many. It no longer carries the weight of being one of the few cultural views onto gay life. For another, there’s a veiled sense of innocence afoot in the movie (produced by Ryan Murphy), since these boys have no idea that AIDS is heading directly at them like a missile. There’s a closeness among the characters — notwithstanding the cattiness — that will be crucial to the gay community as it faces the horrors of the coming decades. They are chosen family to one another, more or less, having been exiled from the world’s embrace.
Directed by the Broadway revival’s director, Joe Mantello, and performed by the same cast, the movie is more than a filmed stage production. We get a lot of close-ups, which add some intimacy and individualization, and Mantello brings us outside the apartment set in a few flashbacks and in an epilogue.
It’s the cast the kept me hooked, though. Having worked together on stage, the actors bring a strong lived-in feeling to their interplay, but they don’t need to project into a theater. They can blend effortlessly. As Michael, who is hosting the party for which everyone has gathered, Jim Parsons is just right. He’s hard on himself, yes, but his suppressed rage is hard on the others, culminating in his cruel game involving telephone calls. Andrew Rannells, Zachary Quinto, Tuc Watkins, Michael Benjamin Washington, they all pull you into that New York night, where there can be no secrets.
Times have changed, but human nature has not. Watching the Netflix movie, I felt that strongly. The eras pass, the context changes, but still, “The Boys in the Band” has something to say to us.