At the beginning of “Bros,” a popular podcaster named Bobby (Billy Eichner) tells his listeners that he was recently asked for feedback on a gay romantic comedy – one that was suggested to him as a cute, funny, approachable film that would both enjoy for a straight as well as for a gay audience. But Bobby, who is outspoken on most issues in general and LGBTQ representation in particular, blanches at the idea that there’s anything “same” about it. Gay and straight experiences aren’t interchangeable, he says, and it’s ridiculous to expect the former to conform to Hollywood’s monogamous feel-good imperatives.
“Love is Not Love,” explains Bobby, destroying a common knowledge of throw pillows and presenting “Bros” with a rather tricky challenge themselves. This film knows exactly what it is – a rare same-sex romantic comedy released by a major studio – and as such, it knows it’s bound to both challenge and uphold certain conventions. He has to fret over what Bobby dismisses as legitimate heteronormative ideals (monogamy, marriage, etc.) while still giving us a pair worth cheering on beyond the length of a foursome orgy to just get one (actually two) of the films to name coarser set pieces.
That’s a tricky needle to thread, and one could blame “Bros” for trying to forestall their own criticism. This film, which Eichner co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller, speaks a pretty good game, but he also hopes its seedy wit and R-rated, punchy sex scenes will disarm you enough to forgive — and maybe even love – its final twist into a happy-ending uplift. It’s hardly a spoiler to note that Bobby will soon meet the man of his dreams, or that this (yes) cute, funny and accessible film means sending her and the viewer home in a good mood.
It can be attributed to many different things that make it so successful, including the joys of Provincetown in the fall, the sights of New York at Christmas time, and the unerring perfection of Luke Macfarlane’s five o’clock shadow. Macfarlane plays Aaron, the baseball-cap hunk whose toned physique catches Bobby’s eye on a crowded dance floor one night. They’re at a gay dating app launch party (whose name alone is worth the price of admission), although neither Bobby nor Aaron are really looking for any action, let alone anything more serious. Still, there are prickly opposites — their first encounter attracts energy, one that deepens after they get over a few awkward texts and start hanging out.
Still, the relationship — one of the few words they’re reluctant to use — requires more than a few adjustments. Aaron, dismissed as “very hot and very boring” by a mutual friend, initially seems attracted to easygoing, attractive guys like him, including a recently unlocked high school buddy, Josh (Ryan Faucett), who shows up every now and then , to complicate the plan and fuel Bobby’s jealousy. And to Bobby’s particular dismay, Aaron’s taste in entertainment leans towards The Hangover and Garth Brooks; he has no idea who Debra Messing is.
Eventually he’ll find out, as Messing has the most extensive of several amusing cameos in a film that adores, taunts, and sometimes casts a crowd of LGBTQ audience favorites. Pop culture quips are, of course, a staple of mainstream romantic comedy, especially ones like this one that sprang from the Judd Apatow stable. (This is the latest Apatow production, directed by Stoller, whose previous credits include “The Five-Year Engagement” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”) But the film, drawing on Bobby’s expertise, moves beyond the breezy apatovian allusion into a realm of media criticism as scathing as it is scholarly.
There are jokes about the cynical explosion of queer-themed TV outlets (“A Holly, Poly Christmas” is one of the better ones) and loving eye-rolls at the sanitized, sentimental portrayals of gay men in “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” ‘ and Schitt’s Creek. There’s also criticism of prestige dramas like Brokeback Mountain and Milk, mostly for their Oscar-friendly practice of casting straight actors as gay characters destined for tragedy.
“Bros,” which has little use for straight actors (or tragedies), positions itself as a useful corrective. While it’s hardly the only gay romantic comedy to emerge in recent months (like Hulu’s Fire Island, whose Bowen Yang appears here as a pompous Provincetown millionaire), it boasts the remarkable precedent of a major studio with an all-LGBTQ leading lady, albeit one whose racial and sexual diversity happens to support a love story between two white, cisgender, gay men — something the film acknowledges with both a wink and a twitch.
For his part, Bobby is well aware of his privilege, which he vigorously mocks on his podcast and tries to keep in check while serving on the board of directors of a soon-to-open LGBTQ history museum, the first such institution in New York City, or anywhere in America . He’s spent most of his professional life thinking about and advocating for queer visibility, making him a smart if comfortable protagonist for a film with some of the same concerns. He wants to enlighten straight people whose knowledge of queer history begins and ends with AIDS and Stonewall, and also shake his overly smug LGBTQ peers into a vigilant ally state.
Which brings us back to Aaron, who was generally content to go with the flow and prosper through his lucrative, unsatisfying career as a probate attorney and his relationships with his gentle family. Aaron is open about his sexuality, but he’s adamant not to rock the boat — unlike Bobby, who has every intention of capsizing the damn thing. The roots of Bobby’s defiance are laid bare in a beautifully written and acted beachside monologue, in which he discusses having been told his whole life to be queer by everyone from bigoted authority figures to his own supportive, identity-affirming parents suppress. Aaron’s refusal to compromise further is a challenge, an eye opener and a source of genuine admiration.
Aaron challenges Bobby in a similarly valuable manner. Easily dismissed as, in Bobby’s words, a “big, bro-y meathead jerk,” he reminds us that smart, emotionally astute people don’t always proclaim their virtues or their values through a megaphone. Watching these two men recognize each other’s Mr. Rightness is one of The Bros’ greatest delights, especially since Macfarlane, with his easy-going vibe and puppy dog eyes, is such a natural foil for Eichner’s unbridled exuberance. At times, Bobby suggests a hybrid of two of Eichner’s more well-known roles, fusing the hypereloquent, comical pugnacity of Parks and Recreation’s Craig Middlebrook with the singing chops of Timon, the meerkat from The Lion King.
It would be unreasonable to expect the film’s various second bananas to be nearly as well drawn, although I wish “Bros” didn’t treat them quite so lightly. Bobby’s cantankerous museum peers sometimes make up a charmingly intersectional peanut gallery, and at times feel like an assemblage of symbolizing punch lines. Dot-Marie Jones plays a physically imposing lesbian, Jim Rash plays a snippy bisexual, and Miss Lawrence plays a gender heterosexual who cultivates a Zen-like serenity. They may remind you of the folly of trying to make a film that represents or pleases everyone. That’s not to say she and “bros” aren’t good company.
Rated: R, for strong sexual content, consistent language, and some drug use
Duration: 1 hour 55 minutes
To play: Begins September 30th in general release
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-09-29/bros-review-eichner-macfarlane-gay-romantic-comedy ‘Bros’ review: Self-aware gay rom-com is not above criticism