Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane shine in the first romantic comedy about two gay men to be released by a major Hollywood studio.
October 25, 2022
Buy this for a dollar: a history-making gay rom-com that's smart, sweet, self-aware and funny, and also deep knows the genre it slips into, including the heteronormative tropes and cliches that viewers have seen ad nauseam. Actually, Billy Eichner would clearly prefer that audiences purchase tickets for Bros for more that that sum of money, even if he spent five seasons offering it to New Yorkers in Billy on the Street while sprinting along the sidewalk and yelling about pop culture. Thinking about that comedy series comes with the territory here, however, and not just because Eichner brought it back to promote this very movie. Starring and co-written by the Parks and Recreation and The Lion King actor — with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the Bad Neighbours franchise's Nicholas Stoller directing and co-scripting — Bros both presents and unpacks the public persona that helped make Billy on the Street such a hit: opinionated, forceful and wry, as well as acidic and cranky.
No one person, be it the version of himself that Eichner plays in the series that helped push him to fame or the fictional character he brings to the screen in Bros — or, in-between, his struggling comedian and actor part in three-season sitcom Difficult People, too — is just those five traits, of course. One of Bros' strengths is how it examines why it's easy to lean into that personality, where the sheen of caustic irritability comes from, the neuroses it's covering up and what all that means when it comes to relationships. The movie does so knowingly as well. It's well aware that Eichner's fans are familiar with his on-screen type, and that even newcomers likely are also. Accordingly, when Bros begins, Eichner's in-film alter ego is shouting about pop culture and being adamant, grumpy and cutting about it. In fact, he's on a podcast, where he's relaying his failed attempt to pen a script for exactly the kind of flick he's in.
A mainstream, studio-produced gay romantic comedy that starts out riffing on the difficulties of making a mainstream, studio-produced gay romantic comedy? Yes, that's Bros. ("Am I going to be in the middle of some high-speed chase and all of a sudden fall in love with Ice Cube?", Eichner asks as the feature's protagonist Bobby Lieber.) A film about a gay man known for a biting and droll disposition, starring a gay man similarly known for that type of biting and droll disposition? Yes, that's Bros as well. It's also a movie that makes fun of Hallmark rom-com schmaltz while featuring one of the US network's go-tos — that'd be Sense, Sensibility and Snowmen, A Shoe Addict's Christmas, Christmas in My Heart and The Mistletoe Promise's Luke Macfarlane — and a flick blasting Schitt's Creek some scorn while charting a comparable queer storyline. So, it's a feature that wears its obviousness and its contradictions in tandem, purposefully and proudly.
Eichner's Bobby is 40, just received an LGBTQIA+-community Best Cis Male Gay Man award and has a dream gig setting up America's first national queer history museum. Rom-com logic, which Bros heartily subscribes to, means he has to discover his seeming opposite in a memorable way: a gay dance party where he complains to shirtless probate lawyer Aaron Shepard (Macfarlane) and finds sparks flying. How Stoller and Eichner handle this scene says plenty about the film, and the authentic view of gay romance, dating and sex it's committed to. Neither man — Grindr-swiping, emotionally unavailable, hardly content as they both are — is anything but himself. For Bobby, that means awkwardly flirting, getting furious when Aaron disappears mid-conversation, tracking him down and telling him about it, but also being non-committal and even angry for being attracted to him. For Aaron, it involves continuing to breeze around the party like nothing out of the ordinary has happened; "I'm supposed to fuck him and his husband later," he tells Bobby about two other buff, sweaty guys on the dancefloor as they're chatting.
Even when the genre isn't giving the world the first romantic comedy about two gay men to be released by a major Hollywood studio — the first romantic comedy both written by and starring an openly gay man as well, and also one with an entirely LGBTQ+ main cast — rom-coms adore Bros' basic scenario. In the broad strokes, there's plenty that's universal in the overarching storyline about opposites attracting, the chaos that springs, and the risks and vulnerabilities it takes to love someone. Still, even when it's nodding to Meg Ryan's filmography and also managing to be a Christmas flick as well — and when it's brightly shot and bouncily paced, which is always — this is never a movie where its leads just happen to be gay. A straight couple couldn't just be subbed in with zero changes, and the chief aim is never to show that the same stock-standard struggles plague everyone in matters of the heart regardless of sexuality.
Instead, Bros is brimming with detail specific to being a gay man today. That's true in the throuples, group sex and "must see pic of ass" dating-app requests that spark a hunt for ring lights and razors, and in the commentary about tragedy-heavy mainstream queer movies that typically catapult heterosexual actors to Hollywood awards. And, it echoes in the short but hilarious gag about a fictional new app called Zellweger, "for gays who want to talk about actresses and go to bed". Bros spans further, however, examining how Bobby has internalised a lifetime of homophobia directed his way, how that's shaped the persona he projects to the world, its influence over his romantic outlook and his underlying self-criticism. When the film also ponders why he's so conflicted about Aaron, and so acerbic and cynical towards parts of queer culture and its stereotypes, it digs into the same ideas — with a joke always mere seconds away, but with both thoughtfulness and heart.
Bros remains unashamedly frothy, although never syrupy or saccharine. It's predictable, even if you've somehow only ever seen one rom-com before now. It runs on charm, care, warmth and insight, though — and more than enough eagerness to make the most of making history. There's just as much willingness, too, to add weight and heft to the picture's gay take on rom-com conventions, all amid Debra Messing appearances, Cher gags, Fire Island's Bowen Yang having all the fun as a rich investor, and the savvy bickering between Bobby's museum colleagues about the infinite shades of the rainbow gleaming in the LGBTQIA+ community. Crucially, there's an engaging and heartfelt boy-meets-boy story at the core of it all, as brought to the screen with two well-matched and affecting performances, in a movie that's determined to be equally honest, pioneering and entertaining.