'Bros': A Sweet, Self-Aware Rom-Com
Touted as the first gay rom-com made by a major studio, it's no secret that Bros was made with big aspirations in mind. It has been pushed as a groundbreaking film in the marketing and in interviews with the film's star and co-writer, Billy Eichner. In some regards, it lives up to this, as the film features a predominantly LGBTQ+ cast, and has a refreshing sense of honesty in how it portrays queer relationships. However, I must say that some of the claims of this being the first major gay rom-com is a bit questionable, especially when various streaming services have made queer rom-coms within the past few years. In fact, the film Fire Island was released on Hulu earlier this year, and while it is also a rom-com featuring a predominantly LGBTQ+ cast, it didn't get nearly as much notoriety as Bros has got. This could be due to Fire Island being dumped on streaming versus Bros getting a theatrical release, but there's definitely an argument to be had on that front. However, both films certainly have their merit, and Bros being released in theaters and by a major studio is still a pretty big deal. At the very least, it signals a big step forward in LGBTQ+ representation in film, and it has the potential to reach a wide audience. As for the film itself, it manages to be quite funny, and is very insightful in regards to gay relationships and queer representation in media. It may not be as innovative as the marketing would have you believe, but it is still a fun, sweet, and refreshingly original film that I found rather charming.
The film follows Bobby Lieber (played by Billy Eichner), a writer and podcaster living in New York City. He is perpetually single, and is perfectly content with this, opting to hook-up with guys on Grindr instead of seeking something more serious. On top of this, Bobby is hard at work as the Executive Director of the world's first ever LGBTQ+ Museum, which is a major passion project of his. But when he goes to a party and meets a man named Aaron (played by Luke MacFarlane), and is almost instantly attracted to him, he begins to question his outlook on relationships. Together, the two explore their hang-ups with romantic relationships, confront their own struggles in their professional lives, and try to figure out whether a relationship between them will even work.
The film's structure has that familiar late 2000s Apatow feel to it, in that it is rather loose, and leans more into situational comedy. It works for the film, however, as it is clear that Eichner and director Nicholas Stoller wanted to take a more grounded approach to the film. I was surprised by this, as I was expecting the humor to be a bit more heightened, but the more down to Earth nature of the film allows for the scenes where Bobby and Aaron are navigating their relationship to feel a bit more poignant, and it allows the comedy to hit a bit harder as there is a sense of honesty throughout the whole film. Even the sillier moments feel rooted in the truth, which made them even funnier to me. On top of all this, the themes that the film is reckoning with, specifically romantic relationships, the commodification of gay culture, and self-expression, come across much clearer and more effectively than I was expecting.
Going into the film, I was a bit worried that it might just take a traditional rom-com approach, but with a gay couple instead of a straight one. Thankfully, it doesn't quite do that. Sure, there are some tropes that it gives into, but it mostly feels like its own thing. A lot of this is due to Eichner's sharp writing, and how the film includes specific details about gay culture and dating that aren't typically shown on screen. I'm sure that Stoller and Eichner had to make some concessions here and there, as certain elements do seem slightly sanitized, but they were still able to get more through than most films do. It has a unique vision and ideas that haven't been explored very often, especially not in a mainstream movie, and it is nice to see these things discussed in a major studio comedy.
What really surprised me was Billy Eichner's performance, as he is genuinely quite good here. I am more familiar with his Billy on the Street persona, as well as his work on Parks and Recreation, so I was half-expecting him to bring some of the loud, shouty energy from those roles to his role here. However, he is quite grounded and shows some vulnerability that gives his character a bit more dimension. It's great to see that he has some range as an actor, and there's no denying that this film is deeply personal to him, which only enhances his performance. I also thought that Luke MacFarlane was pretty good, although his character isn't quite as fleshed out as it could have been. MacFarlane does the best with what he is given, and he has such a charming screen presence that works so well in the context of the film. The chemistry between Eichner and MacFarlane is great as well, and you can't help but root for them. There is a particular scene where they are on a beach in Provincetown where they are incredible together, and it is easily one of the most heartfelt scenes of the entire movie. They are both so genuine throughout the film, and they play off each other so well.
The film has an excellent supporting cast, made up of many great LGBTQ+ actors. While the supporting characters don't quite have as much to do, the actors bring enough personality and energy to them that it balances out. Some of the funniest scenes occur in a board room for The LGBTQ+ History Museum during meetings between the museum's Board of Directors. Dot-Marie Jones, TS Madison, Miss Lawrence, Jim Rash, and Eve Lindley are all hilarious in these scenes, and I wouldn't have minded if they were in more of the film. Bowen Yang and Harvey Fierstein also make brief appearances, and they are both fantastic here. There is also an excellent cameo about halfway through the film that is one of the funniest scenes of the whole film, and it works so much better than it should.
Bros is a bit different than I was expecting, but it's different in all the best possible ways. It is a funny, sweet, and refreshingly original rom-com that hit a lot deeper than I thought it would. I do think that some of the characters are underdeveloped, and it may not be quite as groundbreaking as the marketing would have you believe, but it's still nice to see a film about queer people with a mostly LGBTQ+ cast get a wide theatrical release. It's still a big step in the right direction in terms of representation, and that should definitely be celebrated. It's not perfect, as certain details could have been fleshed out, and some of the edges feel slightly sanded-off, but I can't deny that the film is a rather fun watch. As I said earlier, time will tell whether or not Bros will have has much of an impact on audiences as it wants to, but either way, this is a wonderful film that feels like what we need at this point in time. If nothing else, I hope that the film at least opens the door to more LGBTQ+ movies being made by big studios, and for more LGBTQ+ performers and creatives to get the chance to tell their stories for a wider audience.