WORTH A LOOK?: *****
OUT: from 30/9/20 on Netflix (certificate 15, running time 122 minutes)
Author Mart Crowley died in March before this film was released but did see its cast return to perform the play on Broadway on its 50th anniversary and later win a Tony for Best Revival.
- Read on for reasons including how Parsons will no longer be typecast as Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory
Set pre-Stonewall in New York City in 1968 it’s an extraordinary story featuring eight gay men at a party hosted by recovering alcoholic Michael for best friend Harold which is visited by an old school friend of the host’s who is having a breakdown.
At a time when gay representation was rare on stage or screen, here the audience is thrust into an almost wholly homosexual world in which there is a wide variety of characters.
The ‘Midnight cowboy’ played by Charlie Carver has been bought for 20 dollars for the night by effeminate Emory for the birthday boy (key line: ‘I try to show a little affection, it keeps me feeling less like a whore.’)
Bernard allows friend Emory to abuse him verbally on the basis of his race because he realises it’s the only way Emory can feel better about himself.
Visitor Alan, who we later learn slept with a male college friend, punches Emory whose demeanour annoys him.
The story reminds of Edward Albee’s 1962 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in that alcohol drunk at a party fuels the truth-telling as characters later tear strips off each other. Michael instigates a party game where participants are encouraged to call the one person they truly love.
One recent criticism of the play is that it is about self-loathing and things have moved on but, although there has been welcome change, mental health problems and alcohol abuse are still more prevalent in LGBTQ+ communities.
Michael (Parsons, so convincing in this role that those who see it will no longer typecast him for the show in which he made his name) falls apart as the party gets out of hand and starts drinking again (key lines: ‘Who was it who said: Show me a happy heterosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse?’ and ‘If we could just learn not to hate ourselves quite so much.’)
We saw Mark Gatiss perform the Harold role in the West End and Zachary Quinto’s here is much more subtle and softly spoken (key line: ‘What I am is a 32-year-old ugly, pock-marked, Jew fairy and if it takes me a while to pull myself together, and if I smoke a little grass to show my face to the world, it’s nobody’s goddamn business but my own.’)
The play’s title refers to a line from A Star Is Born when James Mason tells a distraught Judy Garland: ‘You’re singing for yourself and the boys in the band.’ At one point Michael answers his phone: ‘Backstage, Funny Girl.’
Mark Kermode interviewed Gatiss about the play in 2017 and the former is a big fan of director William Friedkin who helmed the 1970 original film of the play.
Director Joe Mantle opens out the play as Friedkin did and at its beginning we meet each of the party guests ahead of the event to establish their characters as the original film did.
Crowley co-wrote the screenplay for this 2020 film and it is dedicated to him following his death.
This film doesn’t attempt to update the piece which is important because it’s very much of its time. It retains its ability to be very funny while dramatic, skewering the point that this community can poke fun at itself.
Things have moved on to the extent that, 50 years on, the cast is entirely gay and out.