Bros: A Gay Rom-Com in Need of a History Lesson.
Bros is a movie that attempts to be culturally significant and bring something new to theaters (you need only read some of the statements made by star Billy Eichner prior to release to see this). Ultimately though, the film fails at leaving much of an impact, and doesn't feel very new or accurate in its representation of queer life and history. It's hard to talk about Bros in terms of just the movie and not its overall significance in the wider conversation about LGBT!IA+ representation in media, so this review will touch on both aspects.
Bros tells the story of Bobby, (Billy Eichner) a well-off museum curator and queer historian, as he works with a board of LGBTQIA people to help open the world's first LGBT History Museum. As is the way in most rom-coms, he has had no luck in finding a relationship and is wallowing in the old "maybe I'm meant to be single" trope. That is, until he's out one night with his friends and he meets hunky eye-candy Aaron (Luke McFarlane); the two start a friends to lovers, "will they, wont they" story-line that is pretty standard rom-com fodder, but different because they're two men! On the surface this story is a simple enough, sweet enough and engaging enough plot for a movie. Where this movie starts to falter is in the ways in which our would-be lovers are written in relation to other characters in the movie, as well as their overall interest in and depiction of the LGBTQIA community.
Bobby is working on a committee of various members of the LGBTQIA community to help on this history museum, and while it is wonderful to see the diverse representation of performers, it doesn't feel like these characters were written to be anything more than the butt of jokes, and used to push forward a narrative that all the various letters that make up the community only really care about themselves, not the betterment of the community as a whole. It feels like Eichner (who wrote the film with Nicholas Stoller) puts the single, cis, white, gay man on a pedestal, being the only one who actually cares about whats good for the museum, while the rest of the board bickers that they're not being represented enough. It's a demoralizing attempt to center the community's narrative around them, and lacks the substance and nuances that actually go into what makes the LGBTQIA community so wonderful. We are all different, and we succeed best when we acknowledge and work with those differences, using our unique privileges to bring up and protect those in the community that are most marginalized. When you're only acknowledgement of the community as a whole is this bickering group of people who can't seem to decide on anything until Billy Eichner points them in the right direction, it feels disingenuous to the vibrant community that actually exists in reality.
While characters in stories don't necessarily need to be likable to be the main character, there does need to be something that an audience can latch onto in order to make a viewing enjoyable. Sadly with Bobby, there is not much that a viewer can latch onto, which seems to be both the fault of Eichner's writing and his performance as the museum educator. There aren't a lot of good aspects of Bobby, other than his desire to preserve LGBT history, and his inability to understand how anyone around him could think or rationalize differently than him is mindbogglingly frustrating. It doesn't help that Eichner as a performer leans into the dis-likability of his character, and struggles to portray any of the more empathetic sides of the character.
Luke McFarlane also seems to struggle with Aaron, the stereotypical straight acting gay "bro" who has a secret passion for making chocolate. McFarlane is a talented performer and has a few moments of endearing rom-com sappiness in the film, but he is burdened with attempting to lower his voice to sound more butch, which makes him hard to understand at points. Not to mention that choice helps perpetuate ideals of toxic masculinity within the gay community; why McFarlane couldn't use his own voice to pair with his naturally masculine features and persona is a mystery. The supporting cast, made up primarily of members of the LGBTQIA community (a great win for sheer number of representation) do their best, but are rarely fleshed out more than a punchline. A special shout out to TS Madison, who is so instantly charismatic and attention-grabbing on film, that she really should be a household name.
The World Around the Gays
In the press tour preceding the release of this film, it was being touted as the "First rom-com about gays released by a major studio", and I'm not entirely sure where they got this statistic from. The closest film that immediately invalidates this statistic is Love, Simon: a coming of age romantic comedy about a gay teen that was released in 2018 by Fox Studios. There was also a lot of talk from Eichner about how this was the first gay movie to hit the mainstream and be taken seriously, which erases several movies that were critical and financial successes- including one of my personal favorite Oscar wins of the last decade, Moonlight. A movie that acted as an underdog, and won Best Picture while going up against Hollywood-fetishizing Oscar-bait darling La La Land (or as I call it, Blah Blah Land). It's interesting to note how this film focuses on preserving LGBT history, and yet it couldn't seem to appreciate any of the LGBT history in its own medium. There is a rich history of LGBT Cinema dating to before the Hayes Code, and the only media this film can seem to reference is Will & Grace, and oddly bash Schitt's Creek multiple times. It's disappointing that there wasn't more of an effort made to better acknowledge where this movie falls in the pantheon of LGBT cinema.
It Could Have Been Better
Bros is a frustrating film that struggles with the writer/performer at it's heart. It has an interesting and cute premise, but fails in most elements of the execution and humor. A strong supporting cast sadly can't overcome the underwritten, divisive characters that paint the LGBTQIA community in a light that doesn't ring true to the community that actually exists. There are better LGBT rom-coms out there, and hopefully this movie's performance at the box office doesn't dissuade producers from green-lighting and producing more better developed queer films in the future.