I once knew a guy who hated pizza. It wasn’t about a gluten allergy, making him crust-averse. It wasn’t on account of a lactose intolerance or even something to do with tomatoes. And because I couldn't connect it to something logical, I judged him. Surely he’s an attention seeker. He publicly bashes pizza and then secretly dials Domino’s at one in the morning—an extra large, extra cheese, extra everything. Domino’s, for god’s sake. Serves him right. In time, his declaration would become true.
The pizza hater and I never were close. I don’t think it was because of that, but I can’t say for sure. Some stances are riskier than others. Hating pizza goes against the normal flow of things. It’s akin to knocking Tom Hanks. Or Betty White. (Gasp! Beware of lightning bolts!)
So let me say that I love pizza. (And Tom. And Betty.) I need you to know that I’m decent and at least fairly typical before I rattle the gay gods and have a Pride posse kicking down my door, demanding I surrender my rainbow shoes.
...I didn’t like “The Boys in the Band.”
Wait! Don’t go! I didn’t say I hated it. Disliking it is actually progress.
Many years ago, I watched the original movie from 1970. That, I hated. I had rented it from the video store—sigh, I miss video stores—after hearing that it was a groundbreaking movie about gay men dealing with each other and their own identities when being closeted was much more the expectation of the day. The movie grated on me. I recall the main character being thoroughly insufferable. He seemed angry and hateful toward his friends and I couldn’t understand why these people would stick around for whatever the occasion was...a dinner party, I seemed to recall. I was so disappointed. A first opportunity to have a movie full of gay characters and all they could do was knock each other down. I wondered if it had the effect of keeping men in the closet. How could these characters be relatable?
With considerable star power buying in, I wondered if I may have been wrong about my assessment of the movie. Perhaps I’d watched it in a bad mood after finding no ice cream in my freezer or while ironing a favorite work shirt and getting some sort of corrosive stain from the iron on the front of it. (What causes that anyway?)
As I continued to see ads for the play each Sunday in The New York Times, I flirted with the idea of another Broadway-fueled trip to the Big Apple. Alas, my budget has its limits. The play came and went and I figured that was that.
Then Netflix announced that it would air “The Boys in the Band,” featuring the Broadway cast. I got excited. I marked the premiere date on my phone. I came across tweets from others, excitedly anticipating The Event. Yes, this was shaping up as must-see viewing.
Weirdly, I waited a few nights before tuning in. Maybe I thought that holding off would quell the hype. Too often, high expectations lead to disappointment.
It took me three viewings to get through it. Two viewings isn’t out of the ordinary for me. My only TV is in the bedroom and sometimes the setting makes me sleepy. Three viewings though is a sign of something else. Especially when I let many days go by between watching. Michael, the main character who gathers his friends to host a birthday for frenemy Harold, is still utterly unlikable. It’s not Jim Parsons’ fault. I thought the character came off worse in the 1970 movie. (Maybe this time I just had a sense of what was coming.) By the time Michael breaks down after the party is over and says, “If we could just not hate ourselves so much,” I felt no sympathy. It’s a compelling line, one that’s still potent today, but it fails to make up for Michael’s repugnant behavior toward each of his friends. I get it, he hates himself so he lashes out. I didn’t need two hours of listening to him put down and humiliate his guests.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that there aren’t any significant characters to counterbalance Michael. Harold is just as mean, more passive and yet more amused in seeing people demeaned. Zachary Quinto plays the part astonishingly well; he seems to be having a wickedly good time. Maybe that’s enough for some viewers.
There are three seemingly good characters—Donald, Hank and Bernard—but they don’t have enough lines to become three-dimensional and they’re mostly doormats for the haters. Nice guys aren’t as fun to write for, but this becomes more problematic in what was originally a groundbreaking production. Watching a new version brought back my prior response, a generalized, Ew and then, Who would want to be gay? followed by the horror, So this is how straight audience members would see gays back in 1968. Would this have been progress? Thankfully nowadays we have so many more portrayals of gay lives. This is just one.
But what do I know? The play won a Tony for Best Revival.
At least I can say I like pizza.