If there’s one battle I have valiantly been waging my entire life, it’s been the “Gay people don’t have to be nice” one. Just ask anyone I have ever encountered on the subway. So when Bobby Leiber (Billy Eichner) proudly proclaims exactly that when confronted with the beatific-goons of the Queer Eye gang early on in Bros, the gay rom-com out this weekend that Eichner wrote and Nicholas Stoller (of Neighbors and Forgetting Sarah Marshall) directed, I will admit I felt seen. Gay bastards unite! Of course, Eichner’s been a one-man-mission on that front for years, having made his fame by running up and down the streets screaming obnoxious things in people’s faces in his “Billy on the Street” videos, and then later playing a sneer machine on his brilliantly acerbic sitcom Difficult People. This has been important representation for us angry, impatient homosexuals!
Here, his character of Bobby is a podcast star who’s managed to maneuver said podcast fame into becoming a museum planner … and no, I don’t really understand that as a career arc either. But inexplicable careers is a rom-com staple, so we’ll allow it. One night Bobby meets cute-ish with a mountain-of-muscle named Aaron (Luke MacFarlane) at a release party promoting a brand new gay-dating app with a premise that’s too good a joke to ruin. But when I say “meet cute-ish” what I mean is “Aaron walks up and just starts talking to Bobby,” so I guess what’s “cute” about it is just that it involves shirtless Luke MacFarlane. He is cute! There’s no time-honored rom-com tradition of someone falling into a fountain or a cake though, and the movie’s just a tinge worse off for that. Anyway, the movie then becomes a long “will they won’t they” dance between the two men who have their reasons for side-eyeing committed relationships, with Bobby convinced (somewhat rightly) that his own outspoken nature (which is the nice way of putting that) is the problem.
But for all of Bros’ strident speechifying about letting Bobby be angry, impatient Bobby—which is to say about letting Billy Eichner be Billy Eichner, as thinly-veiled as the character is—Bros can’t help but sand Billy/Bobby down to a bit of a nub of his self by its end. This is adamantly “mainstream entertainment” after all—that’s the whole point. It’s been hyped and sold relentlessly as “the first gay romantic-comedy released by a major studio that was written by and stars an openly gay man,” and it might have poppers and three-ways and it might out Abraham Lincoln, but all of it happens in the least threatening and suburban-friendly of ways. I mean, for a script that has a line that dares to puncture the feel-good homo-utopia of Schitt’s Creek, Bros sure does go out of its way to liberally borrow one of the most iconic romantic-gesture moments from that same series for its finale. Ultimately, in 2022, most people could probably watch this movie comfortably with their mom, and I see how that would probably make a lot of people happy.
I wish I could be one of them. But no, here I am, being the gay bastard again! That’s just the rub when it comes to “the gay community.” Take a look back at the exhausting discourse that tore Andrew Haigh’s wonderful HBO series Looking to shreds back in 2015; every gay project isn’t going to be for every gay, and I found Bros … fine? Illustriously adequate? Perhaps the fact that I’m twenty years removed from the modern-world dating scene might be the basis for some of my disconnect, but there’s not really much here beyond texting that pre-dates my fuddy-duddy monogamous state. The app-addicted boys of Andrew Ahn’s marvelous Fire Island earlier this year seemed more alien to me in that generational sense, and yet I still came to love them more by the end of that film than I did any of these Bros bros. Something about this movie just kept me at a distance.
I think it’s that for all of Fire Island’s big emotional swings it still allowed its characters the time and the air and the space to behave like human beings every so often, and there’s just not much of that here. While Eichner acquits himself better performance-wise here than I’d worried going in, this isn’t really a movie that allows for much in the way of silence or stillness, like ever. Like most mainstream entertainment out of the Apatow Factory, the drama skates along on a sitcom surface level, all pitched very loud and with a colorful cast of sidekicks there to deliver one-liners and reaction shots, and with a plot about opening an LGBTQ museum and wooing financiers that feels beamed in from the Depression-era theatrics of Busby Berkeley musicals. Only instead of “We’re gonna put on a show to save the chorus girls from the streets!” it’s “We’re gonna stand around in a ballroom while some dude about ten of us know sings a love song to some dude definitely none of us know and then we will all applaud dutifully at the end.”
And that’s fine, and will probably be fine, for a lot of people. I get that these are the stalwart facets of the rom-com genre that people dig; I’ve been known to shed a tear for the same things elsewhere (show me My Best Friend’s Wedding, another rom-com about an asshole, and I’ll show you a sobbing mess by its end.) I didn’t walk out of Bros wishing it ill-will, or anything but great success, as far as that sort of thing is measured these days. It would be very nice for the world if there are moms and grand-moms and heck, maybe even some dads seeing little hearts flutter in their eyes from the rom-com where the seriousness of the relationship is measured in terms of who’s going to bottom for whom.
And the thing is, the top half of the film is pretty funny. I guess it’s just that by the time that bottom finally lands it’d begun to feel like I’d wandered into a bad one-night-stand. One where you suddenly realize the dude lying next to you isn’t one you’re interested in after all. He seemed fine, fun, and flirty, at first. But when it came down for the count, all he really had was a lot of the same old moves, and you’re just ready to towel yourself off and get out of there the second it’s over. I’d say it’s not you, it’s me, Bros, but either way I’m probably gonna have to block your number tomorrow.