That’s bros as in ‘bros and hoes’, rather than Matt and Luke Goss’s 90’s boy band. The jury seems to be out on whether Nicholas Stoller’s gay rom-com has been a hit or a miss; a strong showing on US streaming services doesn’t quite wipe away the high-profile shunning at the actual box office. In times that feel more regressive than progressive due to today’s hot topic, social media bullies, Universal trumpeting the first major studio rom-com about two gay men should have been a big event; it’s failure to reach an initial cinema audience probably says more about how entrenched and widespread homophobia is outside of Kings Road…
Stoller is something of a can-do guy for this genre; as well as the popular Neighbours films, and resurrecting The Muppets, he’s collaborated with industry hub Judd Apatow on hetro-orientated comedies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To The Greek. For Bros, he’s chosen to work with comic Billy Eichner, who co-wrote, stars, and provides a strong authorial voice here. Eichner plays Bobby Lieber, an NYC-based podcaster and museum-curator putting together an exhibit about LGBTQ+ history. Unhappiness with his love-life is a given, until Bobby meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), a closeted-at-work lawyer who strikes a chord with Bobby when they meet in a club. Can Bobby and Aaron overcome their own emotional baggage and become a couple?
‘Not all gay people are nice…’ is one of the lines sold during the first of many monologues here, but while Eichner may not always play nice, his material is undeniably packed with primo zingers. ‘Maybe we can be emotionally unavailable together…Who’s writing your texts, Maroon 5?’ ‘You’re like a grown up gay Boy Scout, and I’m like, whatever happened to Evan Hansen.’ and ‘Like the bearded lady in The Greatest Showman, this is me,’ offer exactly the kind of smart dialogue that’ll convince us all to get behind Bobby and share his issues. Other trappings range from the traditional (a Harvey Fierstein cameo, references to Cher, Joan Armatrading’s Love and Affection) to the modern (SNL cameos, woke Hallmark Christmas movies, gender reveal orgies) with some of Stoller’s brand of casual satire digs mixed in (website Career Donkey feels about right for 2022)
‘Your story is not my story, so go and write your own damn story,’ offers one of Bobby’s straight friends encouragingly, and it feels like it was a big deal to get Universal’s permission to tell a fairly straightforward story of “boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy takes lots of ‘roids and loses his mind”. Bros both deconstructs and celebrates gay stereotypes, often at the same time; ‘Just because we’re gay doesn’t mean we have to dance,’ is a good convention-breaking line, but placed less than ten seconds from a big gay dancing scene, doesn’t land cleanly. Bros is a sweet, clever and funny film, but there’s a little too much on-screen pleading from Eichner that the film should be watched and enjoyed by a heterosexual audience, a position that doesn’t feel entirely true to the film’s straight-up, take-me as-you-find-me credentials. Either way, the packed-comedy and winning performances of Bros mark a big step forwards for gay representation on screen.