There’s a lot riding on Bros. While, misleadingly, it’s been touted as the first gay romantic comedy ever released by a major studio – erasing the straight-to-streaming gems Fire Island and Kristen Stewart’s festive romp The Happiest Season, not to mention teen heart-warmer Love, Simon – it is the first (at least adult romcom) to get a wide theatrical release. It’s also the first major studio film with an all LGBTQ+ principal cast and the first time an openly gay man, Billy Eichner, has starred in and written his own major studio film released in cinemas.
With so many firsts, a film might buckle under the avalanche of the accompanying expectations. Thankfully, Bros is so belly-achingly funny, sharply observant and wryly self-aware that it can more than withstand such a crushing weight.
The film follows Bobby (Eichner), a 40-something writer, podcast host and the curator of a soon-to-be-open LGBTQ+ museum who has given up on love. Instead, he fills his life with disappointing Grindr hook-ups and a bullish determination leave his mark as a queer personin a world of boorish heteronormativity.
His anti-romantic resignation is disrupted at a launch party for Zellwegr, a new dating app for ‘gays who want to talk about actresses’, when he catches the eye of ‘straight acting’ lawyer Aaron (the dashingly handsome Luke Macfarlane). Like Bobby, Aaron has also sworn of relationships, although the pair find themselves in a strange courtship: ‘We went on one date,’ Bobby says, ‘and had sex with three people!’
Despite clear reverence for the genre, Eichner and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, who also acts as director, eagerly point to its incompatibility with the realities of modern gay life. In one scene, as You’ve Got Mail plays in the background, Bobby attempts to turn the mind- numbing back-and-forth of chatting on Grindr into an Austenian tête-à-tête, only for things to devolve into the necessity of sharing of an ‘ass pic’. Later, a disastrous meet-the-parents dinner devolves into an argument about teaching kids LGBTQ+ history.
In fact, Bros does pack in the hot topic queer issues. Joining an overarching meta-narrative about the commodification of LGBTQ+ culture is commentary on internalised homophobia, the dangers of homogenising minority groups, the importance of representation and even the tired straight-actors-playing-gay-characters debate.
Bros is so belly-achingly funny, sharply observant and self-aware, it can withstand the expectations
When played for gags and loving self-mockery, such discourse is effective. But too often pertinent issues, like the impact of impossible body standards on the gay community and the grief of the AIDS crisis, are raised in earnest then dropped, as if Eichner anticipated criticism if he didn’t cover his bases.
That conventionality leads to missed opportunities. While alternative relationship structures and modern queer families appear, they are relegated set dressing. The central romance, with Bobby’s insistence on monogamy and Aaron’s retirement of his sexually active lifestyle, is instead disappointingly homonormative, despite all the well-made arguments against such conformity. Likewise, the all-LGBTQ+ supporting cast is under-utilised; this is still, ostensibly, another film about cis white gay men.
Given what Bros is trying to achieve, though, perhaps a fully subversive take on the genre is too big an ask. Rather, Eichner seemed more focused on delivering a robust, genuinely funny and entertaining experience. For now, that he does so without compromising or pandering to a straight audience, while also breathing new life into romcoms is celebration enough.
In US theaters Sep 30 and UK cinemas Oct 28.