Early October’s ‘In’ crowd

Published October 2, 2020, 11:36 PM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

For early-October’s streaming picks, we have two from this month’s ‘In’ crowd. Namely, it’s the Boys IN the Band, and Emily IN Paris. One is an iconic play about homosexuality in the late 1960’s, and the other is an earnest, but tepid, chronicling of a young Chicago career girl’s adventures in fashion world Paris.

Boys in the Band (Netflix USA) – This 1968 Matt Crowley Manhattan drama about gay life, was turned into a film in 1970, and enjoyed a great Broadway revival three years ago, and now has its latest reincarnation as a made-for-Netflix adaptation directed by Joe Mantello, and produced by Ryan Murphy. Mantello directed the much-awarded revival, and collaborates here with the cinematographer to turn what is essentially a single set into a non-claustrophobic TV take on this iconic play. There’s a wonderful and earnest cast led by Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer and Zachary Quinto; and one of the marketing sidelights is how the whole cast are genuinely gay. Robin de Jesus as Emory provides much of the campy humor, and while a tad over-long, the drama is faithful to the original material.

What problem that may arise for those viewing is whether to treat this as some museum piece, a snapshot of the distant LGBTQ Past, and whether it’s relevant to gay life today. Let’s recall that in 1968, there was no Gay Pride, no HIV-AIDS; and so many milestones of the LGBTQ movement had not happened yet. The attitudes towards being gay, the way others treat the gay community has all changed drastically over the decades, but there is something instructional and pure about this drama. Especially when the second half kicks in, and the malicious parlor game is played among all those at the apartment party; the give and take between the participants make for great viewing and excellent dramatic tension. The play still rings with genuine emotion and anguish – it may at times feel dated, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Emily in Paris (Netflix) – As Emily (British actress Lily Collins, daughter of Phil), takes on the role of a Chicago career girl, whose Social Media marketing expertise in pharmaceuticals, is brought to a test when the conglomerate she works for acquires a French luxury brand, and she’s sent to Paris. The sudden departure happens because the woman who was first assigned to go, is unexpectedly pregnant – helps explain why Emily speaks no French at all. It’s ten episodes of Emily’s business-related and romantic adventures and misadventures; and while it stays on the safe side of entertaining, it does fall back on too many cliches, and stock situations.

Beyond the language and pronunciation issue, there’s the aura of Paris as the home of culture, taste and elegance; while America is crass, loud, and uncouth. There’s the business style disparities – a luxury brand wants to be aloof, have mystery, and be aspirational, while Social Media marketing is all about engagement, traction, and putting the product perpetually in the spotlight. But ultimately, it’s a shame that the screenplay never rises above those set pieces. It tries to be naughty and mature, at the same time that it endeavors to be a Mills & Boon excursion to the French capital. Its typical Darren Starr TV product, fun and energetic; just don’t expect much depth or texture. Charming, but forgettable the moment the end credits start rolling.