I didn’t want to write this article. I didn’t want to belittle “the first major studio film written and starred by a gay man,” or spoil his Rotten Tomatoes score or dance on the grave of his box office prospects.
I certainly didn’t mean to offend the star of Billy on the Street and Difficult People, two of the most successful film adaptations of gay sensibility in recent memory. But Billy Eichner made me do it.
Nobody wants to support a film with a bayonet.
It is not just straight Anyone who didn’t show up for Eichner’s rom-com “Bros” on the opening weekend could feel the pinch. As Variety pointed out in its autopsy of the film’s box office flop, its abysmal $4.8 million gross “means that many LGBTQ viewers also didn’t turn up to see the comedy in theaters.”
Does that also make us the “homophobic crazies” of Eichner’s confusion? Post bomb tweet spiral or just the taciturn Benedict Arnolds of his self-proclaimed march down the history books?
“Even with rave reviews, great Rotten Tomatoes scores, an A CinemaScore, etc., people just haven’t turned up to Bros. right now, especially in certain parts of the country. And that’s disappointing, but it is what it is.” Eichner wrote Sunday in response to news of the return.
Eichner could be forgiven for throwing a misplaced elbow or two after such a crushing disappointment. But the sense of smugness and, yes, entitlement in his response fits well with the film’s rollout. Ahead of its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, he boasted that Bros “is not an indie film. This isn’t a streaming thing that feels disposable or like one of a million Netflix shows. I had to understand, ‘This is a historic moment and somehow you are the center of attention. You helped create it.'” (His shady remarks weren’t lost on fans of Hulu’s “Fire Island,” prompting even its creator, Joel Kim Booster respond publicly and defuse the kickback.)
“You’re the center of attention”: These words should catch your ear to suggest that, as well-versed as he may be in the traditions of rom-com, Eichner’s momentary understanding of queer history on screen eluded him. It’s in the indies, the “throw away” experiments, the made-for-TV movies, and forgotten genre entries that established LGBTQ people in the American imagination before we were even named. No single person or cultural artifact is at the center of this generation-long struggle, which Eichner has repeatedly pointed to during his press tour for the film — or indeed, as box-officers pointed out, Universal Pictures’ marketing campaign leaned toward with such misplaced obsession.
In truth, Bros is nowhere near as radical as it claims, and this break between what it is – a perfectly entertaining mid-range rom-com – and what it is itself – a landmark for LGBTQ people in of popular culture – is inseparable from the hand-wringing around it. It’s most commendable that Eichner made a sexually explicit studio comedy starring two gay men and that he insisted on being wingman/co-star/co-producer Notes by Guy Branumon an all-LGBTQ cast.
Ultimately, however, the film’s innovations are incremental: rather than reinventing the genre around other mores, it simply replaces the “marriage plot” with the “monogamy plot,” right down to our former free-agent hero, the one from his new beau is addressed about children.
It’s especially frustrating because “bros” knows or seems to know better. His rending broadcasts of tokenizations in Hallmark Christmas movies; the “haunted house of gay trauma” that pop culture paints as a queer story; Even Eichner’s own public persona are all strong, knowing nods to the ongoing challenges of telling LGBTQ stories — of living an LGBTQ life — without simply reusing a tired, old, straight-forward script.
Until the climactic frame of his final act, that is, when the image of two conventionally attractive gay men kissing is literally positioned as a bookend of praise to “5,000 years of gay love stories erased from the history books.” For a film that’s otherwise morally allergic, that sure strikes me as “old-fashioned heteronormative nonsense.”
It’s often said, of course, that we dislike in others what we dislike about ourselves, and it’s impossible to see “Bros” — his arrogance, his failures, his enlightened intentions, and his deranged results — without immersing yourself in it to feel involved. I belong to the Eichner generation or close to it; his race, his gender, his sexuality, his industry, his city. I’m the person destined to “see” myself in “Bros,” to be “represented” by him, to celebrate the “milestone” he marks. I’m his ‘type’, in the sense of the term that suggests belonging, and he’s mine – I’m pretty sure, having seen the film twice, I cheered for his shirtless at Scruff in Los Angeles.
And yet, despite the affinities that Eichner and I share on paper – no, because of the affinities we share on paper — I cringe at the wasted privileges of “bros” and balk at his star’s attempt to hide his shortcomings behind the veil of homophobia. Finally, if the film believes in the progress it’s celebrating – that of setting our own terms, making our own choices – then it must earn, not just expect, the support it seeks.
In the quarter century since “Will & Grace,” whose Debra Messing made a brilliant cameo in “Bros,” the very forms Eichner seemed to reject in his eagerness for theatrical triumph have created the space for LGBTQ people, instead, in between numerous options to choose from, clinging to every scrap of strange representation as if it were a life raft in storm-tossed seas.
The freedom that “Bros” is promoting or trying to attempt isn’t just sexual freedom. It’s the freedom to argue about, criticize, or even ignore the artworks that claim to represent us — and, on the other hand, the freedom to continue making and consuming gay art, regardless of whether straight people are in favor of it show up or not.
Watching the film a second time this week, at a half-week screening at Sunset 5, I was most struck by the loudest laughs and cheers, all directed at the gayest material – the slugfest turned sex Scene, Bowen Yang’s cameo, Nicole Kidman’s pre-roll commercial for AMC.
“Bros,” a film explicitly about a refusal to polish the voice for a straight audience, is not for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be. It can be for usto argue on Twitter or at the bar before Drag Race, outside the circuit party, during our own dates (or orgies). And it may be up to us to decide that it’s not worth our time or money that we’d rather watch another queer movie or TV series for love than to watch it out of a sense of duty.
Saying “let gay art bomb” doesn’t mean “let gay art languish”. That doesn’t have to mean that we stop pushing film studios and TV stations for more and more thoughtful LGBTQ representation. It doesn’t have to mean that Eichner is prevented from taking another shot. It’s just a reminder that – not just for gay art, but art, period – commercial failure has often been a sign of creative success. Through the back and forth of the popular and the avant-garde, the praised and the slandered, the celebrated and the suspect, we got to the place where bros could sink or swim.
May the next quarter-century bring even greater reversals, even more disruptive mainstream incursions, even more films and television series that are “too gay, too niche” for straight viewers and not gay enough—never gay enough—for us. That is Progress.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-10-05/bros-billy-eichner-box-office-lgbtq-representation ‘Bros’ movie box office: It’s OK to let gay art bomb