Promoted as the first gay rom-com put out in theaters in wide release by a major studio, Bros is as charming and funny as the genre suggests.
Billy Eichner co-writes and stars in this meet-cute love story set in New York City because, of course, it is. While the script attempts to skewer the Hallmark genre (his character hate-watches the movies), this is still, ultimately, a paint-by-numbers Meg Ryan/Hallmark hybrid, which is also sort of the point.
Eichner plays Bobby Leiber, a gay activist who founded the nation’s first LGBTQ+ museum. He is actively trying to rally his team to ensure the museum represents all of the “rainbow” and that the museum’s opening is a success. These are the most amusing scenes where the roundtable discussion of what is most important to the LGBTQ+ community shows the divisiveness the community faces in comical ways.
The group includes non-binary Wanda (Miss Lawrence), lesbian Cherry (Dot-Marie Jones), bi-sexual Robert (Jim Rash), trans woman Angela (TS Madison), and Eve Lindley as a disaffected influencer Tamara. The banter and dialogue here is fresh and funny. And while some of it will go over straight audiences’ heads, it’s very of the moment and spot-on.
With all that in mind, the story revolves around Bobby and his lack of dating life. At 40, he’s never had a serious boyfriend and, oftentimes, he comes across as cynical, which can make the character sporadically annoying (even though you’re laughing at what he is commenting on.)
Enter Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane), a muscled-up “bro” who appears not to be all that bright and spends his time shirtless at clubs hanging around other equally muscled-up white guys. But Aaron seems taken by Bobby, and the two have a few strained conversations at the club. This is a case where opposites attract, and while both state they don’t want a relationship, they go on a date anyway, and end up having a great time. Plus, Aaron actually is fairly bright and can throw back a zinger just as easily as Bobby. Bobby finds that Aaron keeps surprising him and appreciates being called out on his crap. But there are still things that cause Bobby to pause.
Bobby feels like he isn’t attractive enough to be with someone like Aaron, and Aaron isn’t secure enough as a gay person out in the world to fully commit to being a “guy in a relationship.” But there’s a draw between them, and as they continue to spend time together, an undeniable bond begins to form.
Of course, real problems arise with issues like monogamy, personality suppression, and job dissatisfaction coming into play. All of this is real and honest, although perhaps there were too many issues happening, as none of them truly got the screen time they deserved.
Eichner and co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller really attempt to follow the rom-com format, and, despite Bobby’s character stating upfront to a film exec that gay relationships are not the same as straight relationships, the film still manages to follow the tried and true format. Sure, gay guys navigate things that straight people don’t like, sexual position dynamics, open relationships (more common in the gay community), the ease of gay dating apps to find sexual encounters, etc., but we’re all just looking for love underneath it all. It’s fun to add these gay-specific topics into what is essentially an old-fashioned New York-set Meg Ryan-style romantic comedy.
Eichner is the frenetic, overly talkative stand-in for the always quirky Ryan, except Eicher’s cynical banter is a bit less likable than America’s ’80s sweetheart. This does occasionally get a bit off-putting as it’s like being around a friend who has to have a negative opinion about everything under the sun. Somehow, Aaron is charmed by this and, most of all, just accepts Bobby for who he is, which is a really lovely theme in the film.
As is common in Stoller and Judd Apatow films (Apatow is the producer here), things go over the top, usually to hilarious results. I could nit-pick about things like a major finale plot point that refers back to a barely mentioned trait of Bobby’s that felt a bit contrived, but they are minor in an otherwise delightful comedy.
The actors are terrific, from the leads to all the supporting characters. As has been reported, all are played by openly LGBTQ+ actors (Except a final moment in the museum where a bunch of popular straight comedians portray closeted or openly gay historical figures). Eichner shows good range here, navigating between the pessimistic middle-aged grump his character has become to the earnest and thoughtful person he is underneath a damaged soul.
This is important to point out because although I wished it had been hit a bit harder for straight audiences to really understand, this is a common problem for those of us of a certain age who went through a very limiting time in society. Resentment builds up for not being able to be who we are, which can cause a delay in really diving into the world of relationships. Or the world in general. For Aaron, it’s not choosing a career he wanted for fear it was seen as too “soft.” For Bobby, it was not accepting himself for who he is and finding the guy underneath the sarcasm that can be loveable and desirable.
In that, there is a ton to appreciate here. Not only that, it is truly laugh-out-loud funny – although I’m unclear how straight audiences will react as certain things won’t land for them because they are simply unfamiliar. However, Bros does a great job of making all members of the LGBTQ+ community relatable, funny, non-threatening real people. And that’s probably the most remarkable feat of Eichner’s script. We might have aspects of our world that are different from the straight world, but underneath all of that are just genuine people trying to be themselves and live and love in a world they desperately want to be a part of.