Michael (Jim Parsons) is throwing a birthday for his friend Harold. He’s decorated the terrace of his New York City apartment, bought ice for the voluminous quantities of cocktails about to be consumed, and thrown together a guest list he flippantly describes as “all the same tired old queens.” Michael is a screenwriter who spends and drinks more than he should, and both are catching up to him. Michael’s former flame Donald (Matt Bomer) is unexpectedly in town for the event, filled with all the gems he’s been collecting in psychotherapy. Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington) arrives with knee pads he’s bedazzled and monogrammed himself as a gift, and Emory (Robin de Jesús), a flamboyant decorator serves up what I believe is a lasagna laced with a little something special. Emory’s shared a tense cab ride over with lovers Hank (Tuc Watkins), who’s recently left his wife for Larry (Andrew Rannells), who doesn’t believe in monogamy.
If you’re thinking this birthday party, set in 1968, sounds a little ripe for conflict, you’re not wrong, but you don’t know the half of it. It’s about to be crashed by two unexpected guests: the first is a hooker named Cowboy (Charlie Carver), a big beautiful dummy meant to be Harold’s gift for the night, the second is Alan (Brian Hutchison), Michael’s straight college roommate to whom Michael is not out and asks the others to be discreet as well. Alan isn’t technically invited but shows up anyway, emotional, and well on his way to drunk. And only then does birthday boy Harold (Zachary Quinto) finally show up, chronically late, razor-tongued, cripplingly insecure.
Repressed sexuality and alcohol: a powder keg that’s absolutely, definitely going to blow up, the only question is whether it’ll be before the cake or after.
Joe Mantello directs a rather faithful adaptation of Mart Crowley’s play, allowing it to sit in a period when homosexuality meant so many different things: dangerous curiosity, underground relationships, chosen families, and more. Navigating this landscape is difficult, and each of these characters represents a different perspective, but they’re all just desperate to live life on their own terms. It’s the original cast from the 2018 Broadway revival, so not only is the cast extremely comfortable in the skins they’re temporarily inhabiting, but production can proudly claim that all 9 leads are themselves openly gay men. The ensemble isn’t just talented, but believable as a group with many permutations and entanglements, yet who continue to choose each other and probably always will.
This film is not just a fossil of its source material but a living, breathing thing where pain and expectation are lying in shallow graves, waiting to wound again.