Although it’s debatable whether Bros is the first – or just the latest – wide release mainstream gay rom-com, the Billy Eichner film certainly has mass appeal as a genuine crowd-pleaser.
Bros operates as something of a mix: it’s a queer history for straight audiences combined with Eichner’s own autobiography as an “out” celebrity, as well as a conventional romantic comedy with all of the usual tropes and iconographies (albeit with a gay twist). It’s an interesting blend of many things, and yet even as it deftly negotiates between its multiple impulses, the film never loses sight of its ultimate goal: to entertain.
The film, co-written by Eichner and director Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors, The Five Year Engagement) focuses on Bobby (Eichner), who is doing exceedingly well professionally as the host of a very popular podcast called ‘The Eleventh Brick’ (the first of many Stonewall references). Personally, however, he’s emotionally closed off and perennially single.
From the opening scene, it’s clear that Bros aims to educate audiences on significant queer figures (both familiar and niche) while also acknowledging that cis white gay men are not the centre of the queer universe. It’s an important point considering the real life criticism that the film focuses on two white gay men, one of whom – Luke Macfarland’s Aaron – is a traditionally beefy, masculine dude (hence the title, Bros)
The reality is that the film is very aware of itself. Bobby’s work on the board of an LGBT History Museum introduces not just a diversity of sexual orientations such as Dot Marie Jones’ lesbian Cherry and Jim Rasch’s very adamantly bisexual Robert, but also trans women and people of colour like Miss Lawrence‘s Wanda, Ts Madison‘s Angela and Eve Lindley‘s Tamara. (For those keeping track, the film is entirely cast with real life queer actors with the exception of ally Debra Messing, playing herself). In this way Bros interrogates Bobby’s position at the centre of the narrative, albeit gently (this is, after all, still Eichner’s baby and he is steering the ship).
The rom com tropes start early when Bobby has a meet cute with Aaron at a party (the recurring comedy bits kick in when Aaron keeps disappearing mid-conversation) and the two begin a tenuous courtship. Aaron is intimidated by Bobby’s high powered, celebrity life while Bobby’s insecurity about his body is projected onto Aaron’s hunky frame and his interest in buff muscle boys.
There’s the usual misunderstandings and petty conflicts as the two uneasily negotiate their feelings, allowing the jokes to flow regularly and the romance to unfold naturally. Importantly enough, the film doesn’t shy away from its “love is not love” treatise: gay sex is presented as fundamentally different from straight relationships, including discussions of bottoming and topping; the language of hook-up culture (“Hey, what’s up?”) and the fleeting nature of desire (in the film’s first five minutes, Bobby has a discrete sexual encounter that ends 20 seconds in when the unnamed guy unceremoniously cums on him).
This is the film’s version not-so-discreet way of telegraphing to (straight) audiences that this isn’t a typical rom com. And while the film includes foursomes (several, in fact), the content is barely more graphic than the Hallmark movies Bros so hilariously lampoons.
The film’s biggest selling feature is simply that this kind of romance (and comedy) is still something of a unicorn: a big screen, medium budget, wide release that unapologetically tackles gay sex and dating for the big screen. Were it simply the first of its kind, that would be notable enough, but the fact is that this is a sweet, funny and accessible text for all audiences.
Let’s hope that between this and Fire Island (which also starred Eichner’s friend, Bowen Yang who cameos here) Bros can help break the Lavender ceiling and bring more (diverse) queer stories into the mainstream.
Bros is now out in theaters