‘Bros’: Gay Rom-Com Breaks Down Barriers With Enjoyably Funny Love Woes
Popular art is the arena where you can sometimes truly assess the level of representation or equality in a society. It’s a good sign when popcorn genres start breaking out of their old shells. “Bros” arrives as the first gay rom-com funded by a major studio, in this case, Universal, and it has everything you expect from this type of movie. The writing is cheesy, the romance about as believable as a Hallmark card, the jokes cute and farcical. None of this is a bad thing. That’s the purpose, to prove you can have a universally enjoyable romantic comedy that is still specifically very gay. It has no interest in catering to straight audiences and that’s also a good thing.
Romance has to start with loneliness or heartbreak. Bobby (Billy Eichner) is gay and hitting 40 without ever having committed to a serious relationship. He’s a podcaster who prefers the kind of casual hookups found on apps like Grindr. There’s little time for romance when he’s also about to open a museum of LGBTQ history, which requires a lot of work. While hanging out in the New York City gay club scene, he locks eyes with Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), a buffed hunk, also 40, who isn’t the most intellectually profound person. He likes simple things and has a good heart. Like Bobby, he also claims not to be interested in anything serious. When they do start a casual fling, it of course gets complicated when feelings are developed, particularly from Bobby. The challenge is that both men have to figure out if they want to finally settle down and if so, can two such opposites ever be compatible?
The American rom-com is one of those acquired tastes in cinema and “Bros” delivers for the fan base. It does cheesiness well by establishing clear, quite plausible dilemmas common to the average elder millennial. This is a genre that cheerfully defines first world problems. Bobby and Aaron are both successful and live secure, middle class lives. What isn’t so secure are their hearts. Director Nicholas Stoller, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eichner, has studied his predecessors well and turns “Bros” into a fun Rosetta stone of the times. Bobby grows bored with the tediousness of making conversation on hook up apps but masks his real desires precisely with mundane small talk. He’s a passionate activist for LGBTQ rights who doesn’t flinch from a debate on his podcast, but with Aaron his insecurities start to show. Stoller films the gay club world scene, focusing on chiseled bodies and jabs at obsessions with age. Bobby is very smart but doesn’t know if he can measure up to a hunk like Aaron, who doesn’t turn every dinner into a discussion on gay rights, but likes “The Office” and hockey.
The comedy in “Bros” is both touching but also full of great bits of satire and in-jokes. Bobby’s museum will focus on gay icons, including the closeted ones still hotly debated like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt (there’s also a bust of Pete Buttigieg in the middle of an exhibit). He gets enraged when his staff questions whether Lincoln was indeed gay (“maybe he was bisexual”). Sharper lines like “gay sex was more fun when straight people were uncomfortable,” are great nods at the long road traveled to get here in movies. “Bros” is also refreshingly bold in actually letting the characters have the sort of charming, funny, steamy sex scenes you usually get in straight rom-coms. There’s also some hilarious, light raunchiness when Aaron invites Bobby to join him with a gay couple who are into threesomes.
When “Bros” tones down the comedy for some more serious drama it also delivers some effective, thoughtful moments. During an early date Aaron seems embarrassed to admit he’s with Bobby when they bump into an old jock buddy. Later, that same jock comes out on social media. While having dinner with Aaron’s parents, Bobby can’t help himself and wonders why Aaron’s mom, a progressive, accepting school teacher, still thinks second graders are “too young” to learn about gay issues or historical figures. This elevates the material and gives it a more challenging depth than the usual rom-com dilemmas about having to admit your partner isn’t rich or is pretending to be your fiancé. Bobby’s insecurities are also relatable to anyone who wonders if they match visually or even intellectually with someone they feel very attracted to.
It’s not a spoiler to say “Bros” finds a happy ending, because without that this just wouldn’t be a real rom-com. For fans of this kind of movie it’s both a good one and a necessary trailblazer. Within the jokes there’s also a sincere examination of what makes a functioning couple. Bobby is angsty, but the less chatty Aaron is also the more focused, practical partner who can negotiate an essential donation for the museum. Attraction can be a mystery and sometimes we don’t realize that in searching for perfection, we miss the more subtle details that can make a relationship work. On that level alone, “Bros” is both a lot of fun but smarter than expected. This is a proudly gay rom-com which hopefully means the days will be over when that will be a big deal. Any couple looking for a decent date movie should go check it out this weekend.
“Bros” releases Sept. 30 in theaters nationwide.