Nicholas Stoller and Billy Eichner’s rom-com Bros begins by asking whether the classic rom-com fits a queer romance. Bobby (Eichner) posits that “love is not love”; LGBTQ+ lives, love, sex, and all of the cultural context in between are distinct. The rest of Bros explores that thesis as Bobby and Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) meet and a relationship blooms. Does this rom-com necessarily stand apart from all the others? Can something so meta-textual be distinct while purposefully flaunting all the tropes of the genre?
Well, no, it can’t—this movie is as standard rom-com as it gets if you’re looking at the broad strokes. But it’s also not a copy and paste, despite all the intentional parallels and references. You couldn’t simply replace one of the two characters with a woman and have the same movie, and not just because of the trite poppers jokes. Its struggles and joys are
Bros, as a whole, is a really sweet movie. Macfarlane takes the cake as an instantly lovable and actually layered love interest. He’s designed to make you assume he’s just a lunky, boring guy but quickly becomes somebody just so thoughtful and so fun to laugh with. The humor is perhaps too often reserved for Bobby’s b-plot co-workers or his c-plot friend Henry (Guy Branum), save for one particular comedy opportunity between Bobby, Aaron, and a Fire Island homeowner knowingly played by Bowen Yang. Not that Bobby and Aaron don’t have a comedic report between them, it’s just understated in Aaron’s dry sense of humor.
The movie relies on your continued expectation that Aaron is indeed the “bro” type that he looks like and that Branum sets him up to be presumed as from the onset. So most of the humor between them is based on suspense derived from the expectation that he can’t be funny or sincere, but it turns out he’s actually both every time. It’s far from “ha-ha” funny and rubs a bit against the whole point of his character being proof that men who look like him and have the background he does aren’t all the same. But he’s so sweet that it works every single time.
It does become glaringly obvious that every single character who isn’t a cis white gay man is there almost purely for comic relief or to build up the two main characters. While they often steal scenes because they’re funny, the scenes are still never about them. Which Bros absolutely acknowledges upfront. The bi men and lesbian women are put into just as much of a proverbial corner too. But they and the LGBTQ+ museum they are attempting to curate and open are a perfect stand-in for all of the struggles to boil queer existence down to a monolith, which the movie is critiquing in the first place. But since the film would only have about 1.5 interesting characters without all of them, at least they are consistently brought into scenes to make different versions of their one-note characters’ jokes.
And thank goodness, because in complete honestly, I would have walked away from Bobby after the first awkward conversation with him and probably not looked back. So while I think Eichner hams it up hard to make himself annoying so he can make a grand rom-commy point later, it’s a lot. And the very chunky and often awkward-sounding script doesn’t help much. But that’s about where my negative feelings end.
Where Bros really succeeds, though, beyond its humor and romance, is in all the ways it examines that initial question: what sets queer romance apart, and how does that get shown on screen in a commercial production without diluting its truth? Of course, any movie can make jokes about bi invisibility and lesbian handiness. However, only a gay rom-com can centralize internalized heterosexism and the struggle of gay dating at 40 as its true core. And it does this really well.
Bros speaks early and often to the fact that in such a short time, gay culture has gone from illicit and underground to mainstream and co-opted. The vast majority of depictions of gay romance and sex now for broad consumption are about partying, non-monogamy, and a top-bottom binary. And as well-exemplified through Bobby’s movie-long struggle to discern how best to display, celebrate, and educate about queer history in his new museum, this visibility is inherently good. But it also means that with a new norm and a new safe level of queer representation that the general public will tolerate, anything beyond that is still either deviant or disinteresting to a general audience. So when Bros (or Fire Island, for that matter) depict their characters struggling to fit into the now-standard culture of partying, drugs, and so forth, that is what is actually revolutionary about these movies.
My fear as a queer person in the real world is never whether non-heterosexual love will be acceptable; on a macro level, at least, that battle’s been largely won. I fear that the way I want that love to look and feel is what won’t be accepted. There’s little reference point popularly right now for queer people who want to date queer people that don’t like to dance and party or be in throuples or obsess over pop divas and drag queens and vacation in Fire Island or Provincetown or Palm Springs. Bros has all those elements in it too, but it’s not the end-all-be-all. This is a valid and real part of queer culture, but other ways of being queer exist and are important too.
I, like Aaron in particular, have a quiet fear of men. We fear that every queer man is either the stereotypes above or the stereotypes of toxic masculinity that Bobby fears Aaron is at the start. So what is so revolutionary to me about a movie like Bros is less it being a big studio gay romance and more that it depicts romance outside of the commercialized visage of non-heterosexuality that popular media has been feeding us for years now. It shows that not all queer men are alike and that confronting internalized heterosexism isn’t just about judging yourself for being queer it’s about learning not to judge other men either. And for that character journey especially, I am grateful.
Bros works so well because it manages to be everything for any kind of viewer, but not in the “safe for straight people” way. It’s a perfectly typical rom-com with a mediocre script, some cheesy moments, and a huge supporting cast of comedic relief characters (seriously, huge). It’s also a movie that has a little touch of everything a general audience expects from its now-standard queer archetypes in partying gays, aggrieved invisible queers, and a constant reverence, or overbearing adoration, for LGBTQ+ history and icons. But beneath its sometimes too-obvious meta examination of commercialized queer romance and comedy, Bros manages a sincere exploration of what it means to experience and depict queer love in its truly radical nature.
Bros is playing now, only in theaters.
Beneath its sometimes too-obvious meta examination of commercialized queer romance and comedy, Bros manages a sincere exploration of what it means to experience and depict queer love in its truly radical nature.