Billy Eichner's disappointing new film paints queer life at arm's length, opting for a sanitised perspective of the LGBTQ+ community
Before the lights even begin to dim for Bros, the film has already set itself up for failure. The label of “the first gay rom-com from a major studio” is no small feat, nor is the fact that its cast is made up of an all-LGBTQ+ ensemble. Yet the responsibility that comes tied to this Billy Eichner-penned rom-com has resulted in a film obsessed with its own marketability rather than the merit of the work itself, which ultimately comes to embody the same unchallenged conventionality as the hallmark movies it points and laughs at.
Bros charts the will-the-won’t-they of Bobby (Billy Eichner) and Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), two New Yorkers with a privileged life but seemingly everything to complain about. The former is this rom-com’s self-serving protagonist, a 40-year-old curator at the National LGBTQ+ History Museum and the host of the podcast 11th Brick, a reference to Stonewall. Bobby’s a massive commitment-phobe and his entire story orbits his desperation to seduce and date hunky “boring” Aaron in a narrative that features more than one nod to Meg Ryan rom-com classics.
Sat in the museum’s board meeting, Bobby is surrounded by a host of lively but underdeveloped characters – a Black trans woman, a butch lesbian, a non-binary person, and an antagonised bisexual – that have all been reduced to clichés, and barely supporting roles, in service of Bobby’s self-absorbed dating quest and Grindr hookups. Co-writer Eichner and director Nicholas Stoller evidently recognise the opportunity they have in making space for the full scope of the LGBTQ+ community on a Hollywood scale, and yet they fail to look beyond the prism of cis-white gayness, no matter how much the film alludes to its attempts to do so.
There are many half-hearted attempts to establish this film as a modern, queer and socio-politically savvy text. Repeatedly, Bobby shrills that “Black trans women threw the first brick at Stonewall” in a proclamation of Bros’ progressiveness, which is followed up with Bobby rolling his eyes at voguing, calling his own community stupid and shallow, and centring himself in every single conversation of queer struggle. It is a depiction of queerness that tries to use self-awareness as a get-out clause, which absolves this film from none of its wrongdoings.
Conventionally attractive and exclusively white groups in the LGBTQ+ community are often the focus of what is deemed “mainstream cinema.” Bros falls into this camp and then professes to be pioneering. Circumventing any meaningful contemplations, it shallowly approaches and then abandons many topics worthy of exploration – the difference between heterosexual and homosexual relationships and re-contextualising queer history, for example – as to resemble a self-indulgent lecture.
This, after all, is a Judd Apatow-produced movie and its one star awarded here is for the occasionally good jokes. Even then, however, laughs don’t stem from the rom-com’s originality, but burrowed pop culture references to other, more watchable titles. Yentl, The Greatest Showman, Will & Grace, and Schitt’s Creek all get a shoutout, serving only to remind us that viewing any of them would prove to be a more enjoyable use of time than Bros’ two hours of circular set-ups and misses.
For what it’s worth, Eichner’s series Billy on the Street is a staple of my comfort watches. But for the man who coined the phrase “let’s go lesbians!” it’s so disappointing that Bros paints queer life with such a sterile, arm's length attitude. Characters are personality shells, queer friendships are pushed on the back burner (a wholly unrealistic plot point) and scenes aren’t given a second to breathe.
For a film so focused on celebrating queer history, the sheer lack of awareness of queer cinema outside the realm of Brokeback Mountain and Call Me by Your Name is rather astonishing. Bobby is so opposed to the homogeneity of queer history and life and yet Eichner has given us a movie that paints the LGBTQ+ community as a blanket clique palatable for a big-budget Hollywood production. Bros pushes cinematic progression back into the closet with a sanitised perspective of the LGBTQ+ community that has been chipped away for a straight audience to enjoy as they clap along at their own box office allyship.
Bros was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2022. It will be released in UK cinemas on 28 October.Where to watch