Directed by Nicholas Stoller.
Starring Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane, Guy Branum, Miss Lawrence, Ts Madison, Dot-Marie Jones, Jim Rash, Eve Lindley, Monica Raymund, Guillermo Díaz, Jai Rodriguez, Amanda Bearse, Debra Messing, Peter Y. Kim, Justin Covington, Symone, Ryan Faucett, Becca Blackwell, D’Lo, Bowen Yang, Harvey Fierstein, Brock Ciarlelli, Kristin Chenoweth, Matthew Wilkas, Dahlia Rodriguez, Derrick Delgado, George Dvorsky, Jamyl Dobson, Ben Stiller, Kenan Thompson, Amy Schumer, Jillian Gottlieb, Rick Crom, and Everett Quinton.
Two men with commitment problems attempt a relationship.
An early moment in Bros depicts a flashback of Billy Eichner’s semi-famous podcast host Bobby Leiber pitching a gay romantic comedy to a somewhat receptive studio executive, mentioning that “love is love.” Bobby instantaneously recognizes this as BS PR speak, asserting that not only is gay love different from heteronormative relationships but that “love is love” is a phrase made up for straight individuals to feel more comfortable consuming queer material.
This is the first of many scenes in Bros filled with hilariously righteous anger and one that comes across as personal to Billy Eichner as if it’s a loose translation of a conversation he actually had with a studio executive pretending to understand what kind of love story a gay man would want to tell while hiding that there would be severe edits to keep it heteronormative friendly.
The scene in question also establishes Bobby has a strongly opinionated, prideful person. His work is dedicated to elevating the community’s place in history by overseeing the curation of an LGBTQ museum exhibit installation (which allows the star and screenwriter to bring more uproarious characters from across that sphere). And while this makes for laugh-out-loud scenes of characters debating whether Abraham Lincoln was gay or bisexual, among other topics of debate, it keeps up with centering Bros as a major milestone in Hollywood movies while driving home the character’s admirable pride in his identity.
Bros is a hoot and unabashedly gay; there’s no denying that. You could probably argue it’s still not gay enough, featuring multiple scenes of intimacy (some played for laughs, others beautifully for tugging heartstrings) that are disappointingly restrained as if a straight audience is going to walk out in protest if a penis is caught on screen or if there is anything beyond making out. And it’s little tidbits like these that sour the taste, not because there needs to be nudity or envelope-pushing raunch (there doesn’t), but the feeling that something is missing to solidify Bros as a revolutionary comedy. It’s completely content to fly by with jokes that, in theory, everyone should be comfortable with.
Instead, my mind often kept going back to the gay romantic comedy pitching gag, wondering if Universal had said the same thing to Billy Eichner, leaving us with this undeniably well-made, lovingly sweet, and frequently funny movie that still feels neutered just enough to appeal to a wider (non-gay) audience. Then again, I’ve heard rumblings from Toronto that a small minority of the general public felt the movie was gay, to which I say fuck off and grow up.
Admittedly, none of this would be in a few if Universal wasn’t marketing the movie as so, considering that when it comes down to it, Bros is a delightful rom-com from a fresh perspective, even if it does fall into genre clichés. When Bobby is not planning his LGBTQ exhibit and searching for donors to make it happen, he’s an emotionally unavailable guy using Grindr and gay clubs for hookups. The script (co-written by the film’s director, Nicholas Stoller) wisely doesn’t judge this behavior, opting to offer a humorously insightful look at the culture and differences in gay communication (I imagine “hey, what’s up” is going to become a popular texting phrase more than it already is).
Soon after, Bobby crosses paths with extremely fit and chiseled Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane), also emotionally unavailable and far less confident than his physical build and looks might lead one to believe. Bobby has none of that going for him but remains headstrong and stubborn regarding his beliefs. It is also evident that Aaron has a case of internalized homophobia, unable to proceed with his life dreams of starting a chocolate bakery establishment (presumably because at a young age, others, including his brother, bullied him for taking an interest in baking), having settled for a depressing job sorting out wills for people before they die.
Worse, when it’s time for the parentless Bobby to meet Aaron’s folks, he is told to turn down his intense motormouth energy that never backs down from standing up for what he believes in (one of the best scenes in the movie involves a discussion about whether or not children should be taught LGBTQ history in elementary school).
However, Bros is not playing all of this for broad strokes comedy; there is also some inherent sadness in the fact that Aaron is nervous to express his gayness and be himself. A good portion of the film plays off the fascinating dynamic that the beefy muscular bro is the deeply insecure one, fixated on repeatedly hooking up with similarly statuesque men. As a result, Bobby questions if he is attractive enough and begins an internal struggle of his own, somewhat fearful that he is growing so emotionally attached to Aaron.
The narrative’s trajectory inevitably conforms to what one expects from a romantic comedy, causing one to wonder if the fictional LGBTQ Hallmark movie mocked “A Holly Poly Christmas” is more subversive. Bros could also use a bit more tightening in the editing room and more boldness to its script, but it does culminate into something moving and meaningful that is personal to Billy Eichner. The bros are hilarious and endearingly played by Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane with more than enough heart and elicited chortles to drown out the Hollywood cynicism.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com