Representation does matter, absolutely. So, before I say anything else, I must admit that Bros, a new romantic comedy about an open and proud gay man struggling in the dating world, is a breath of incredibly gay fresh air. It comes on the heels of 2020’s Happiest Season, writer/director Clea Duvall’s holiday comedy about a heretofore closeted lesbian who brings her girlfriend home for Christmas, which was also a hugely groundbreaking and significant step forward in queer storytelling in mainstream Hollywood films. Up until then, queer stories have been largely in the background—if that–in big-budget Hollywood films, as witty sidekicks or tragic figures, succumbing to violence, plagues or suicidal and self-loathing tendencies. So, yes, to have had Happiest Season and Bros, two major, mainstream Hollywood movies, come within two years of each other, which aren’t just significant for centering on gay characters, but for actually being HAPPY stories, is a wonderful thing. It’s a major step forward, and I’m here for all of it.
But you need more than good intentions to make a good movie. And, sadly, Bros is a film that falls way short of its potential, largely due to its own unattainable aspirations and overly inflated desire to jump the queer genre forward by so many steps, it overshoots the mark wildly.
I love Billy Eichner. I loved him on Parks and Recreation, but, mostly, I was absolutely addicted to his internet and then cable show, Billy on the Street, where he would scream random pop culture references at unwitting passersby in New York City. When Billy on the Street became a sensation and made Billy a star, he admitted that his abrasive, overly aggressive personality he displayed on the show was just a character, written to be excessive and incendiary, and that’s not really who he is. But it’s hard to not see Eichner’s Billy on the Street character in Bobby Leiber, the character Eichner plays in Bros, a gay activist who runs a nonprofit organization dedicated to getting a museum to gay history built in Manhattan.
Bobby, like Billy, is an outsized, irrepressible, nonstop, passionate and committed advocate for everything he cares about and believes in. But when it comes to the pool of potential dating partners Bobby wades through on a daily basis, he is far less generous, as he has practically given up on finding love, not only because he doesn’t really believe in it (and has never known it), but because he simply won’t lower his own standards to fit the modern dating scene, which he considers to be filled with meatheads and sex addicts. It’s not that Bobby doesn’t like sex, in fact he has sex all the time, just not meaningful sex—something he wonders is even possible for a young gay man in New York City.
But of course, as you would expect, since this is a Hollywood romantic comedy, Bobby then meets Aaron, a gorgeous, hunky lawyer played by Luke Macfarlane, whom Bobby is instantly attracted to but also quickly realizes has nothing in common with. Naturally, however, there is a spark between them and so begins the dance between two seemingly mis-matched people who end up madly in love, albeit by a very circuitous route. It’s a tale as old as time, but just never seen in this context, with this cast or these characters.
It is wonderful to see the complicated, textured and often hilarious mating dance through the point of view of gay characters, at least in a Hollywood film of this stature. There have been indie films, of course, about gay dating, most notably 2001’s All Over the Guy, which follows almost the exact same plot as Bros, and was an exceedingly charming little film about a gay romance that I highly recommend. But Bros is much bigger (meaning bigger budget and bigger names attached), so it’s got to go bigger I suppose, so there is little that’s actually charming here. Instead, Bros feels the need to deliver everything profoundly and proudly—and loudly—sometimes to its own detriment.
Eichner, who co-wrote the script along with director Nicholas Stoller, has written a script that feels like he was afraid nobody would ever make a gay movie ever again, so he’d better jam everything into this one, just in case. Every line is a wisecrack, every character a cliché. Every scene is amped up for either comic or dramatic effect. Subtlety and nuance are nonexistent—if Marvel made a gay movie, Bros would be the first Avenger.
But all of that isn’t what necessarily sinks Bros. The story is a classic one, and the excessive LGBTQ advocacy and representation can be forgiven, especially since we are nowhere near being in a place where it’s not needed, and I even could have gotten over the over-the-top Gay Sex in the City vibe that implies that every gay man in New York City is hot and is having sex multiple times a day with multiple partners (who knows, maybe they are). But where Bros unfortunately and sadly became unsalvageable for me was in the casting of Eichner himself.
Played by Eichner, Bobby is exhausting to watch, exhausting to listen to, and makes the whole film just an exhausting ordeal. He plays his character at 100 nearly the entire film, with little deviation. I worried he would have a heart attack from going full speed that long without stopping. There’s passion and then there’s the abyss, into which Eichner falls, delivering every line with such an overexuberant, angry and sarcastic fervor that any poignance or meaning is lost, let alone most of the humor. There are a lot of jokes crammed into the screenplay of Bros, most of which are zoomed by so quickly as Eichner races to get to the next one. If you knew how much I love Eichner’s comedy, you’d be as astounded as I am that I say this, but Billy Eichner kills Bros. He is just too much. His performance is relentless, one note and colorless. It’s exhausting—you just beg for some let up. I absolutely get who this character is supposed to be, but, as played by Eichner, there is no modulation, no variance, no delicacy. It’s a style choice, I get it. It just didn’t work for me.
Thank goodness for Luke Macfarlane.
Macfarlane is, by far, the best thing in Bros, and it’s a good thing, or else the whole experience would have been a loss. If the casting of Eichner was completely wrong, the casting of Macfarlane was completely right, as he provides the perfect, gentle salve for Eichner’s abrasive needling. Macfarlane is charming, endearing and a master at dry, quiet comedy, something that is very welcome in this film, which is chock full of in-your-face banter.
Unfortunately, the script doesn’t call for too much of a supporting cast, which most successful rom-coms rely on for their texture and depth, so we are left with just Eichner and Macfarlane to carry the film and win our hearts, which ends up being a 50/50 endeavor.
Trust me, I wanted to love this film. I still do love its existence in the world and the fact that it will do more good than harm for laying the groundwork for more to follow in its footsteps. I love its honesty and its unwillingness to compromise its integrity by refusing to present a sanitized picture of gay romance, gay sex and the LGBTQ community just to make straight people comfortable (which it won’t). I love that its entire cast is made up on openly LGBTQ actors. I love that Bros isn’t made for straight people, but makes more than enough room for them to appreciate it. So, even though the film itself is largely a disappointment for me, I’m still encouraged by the fact that it got made at all and am excited at the promise of what is still, hopefully, yet to come.