Smart, insightful, an avenue for LGBTQ characters to tell their stories, and screamingly funny, Bros marks the first time a major motion picture studio (Universal) has released an R-rated gay-centric rom-com (earlier this year, Fire Island was released on Hulu and had a brief theatrical run, but it was an indie production). Co-written by star Billy Eichner and director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Neighbors 1 & 2), the film centers on successful podcast host Bobby Leiber who is also part of a board finalizing the building of the first-ever LGBTQ museum in his hometown of New York City. Bobby is proudly single, which does not mean he doesn’t frequently use Grindr for the occasional one-night stand. But he’s not interested in a committed relationship or anything resembling romance in his life.
With that mindset, he meets Aaron (Hallmark movie mainstay Luke Macfarlane), a handsome, physically jacked man’s man who has no patience for smalltalk or commitment in his own life. The two seem perfect for each other, except starting from their first meeting, Bobby immediately begins challenging Aaron about the dude-bro way that Aaron presents himself; Aaron isn’t used to being challenged, so he slips in and out of the initial conversation, and for reasons unknown, Bobby is intrigued by this. They agree to meet up later, and the early stages of their relationship are awkward, as they stumble in their attempts to feign disinterest in each other while also starting to feel things. Even in these early scenes, Bros reveals itself to be a compelling story about the unique challenges that men dating men might encounter, especially when both parties are committed to not being committed.
This being a Judd Apatow-produced movie, its running time is right at two hours, so there’s a lot of movie here. That’s not to say it’s loaded with filler; it is not. The film cuts from Bobby’s personal life (we also meet his circle of friends, including a straight couple, husband played by Guillermo Diaz and with kids who might be more comfortable with Bobby being gay than Bobby is), his dating world, and his museum work. There, we see a handful of boardroom meetings with the team behind the museum, which might represent the funniest scenes in the movie, thanks to veteran actors like Dot-Marie Jones and Jim Rash, as well as up-and-coming performers including trans model Eve Lindley. Although this is a film whose clear primary agenda is laughs, the representation on display is impressive and significant. With a cast of entirely LGBTQ actors (even in the straight roles), the movie recognizes a long history of gay actors playing straight parts through the ages.
In addition, Eichner and Stoller aren’t afraid to get real when it comes to gay sex and the various types of relationships available to everyone (I’ve never heard of a thrupple before Bros, but now I have). At its heart, Bros is a classic rom-com, but what it doesn’t do is simply take the rom-come formula and swap out a straight couple for a gay one, because it recognizes that the issues and things that pull people together or push them apart of often different. And while I’m sure Eicher would be thrilled if straight audiences came out of Bros having learned a things or two about queer culture, this is hardly a message movie that feels like homework to sit through. Eichner is a gifted comic performer (and Northwestern theater graduate) and writer, and what he cares most about is laughs, and there are those aplenty.
The film tosses in a handful of cameos, including trailblazers like Harvey Fierstein, rising stars like Bowen Yang, and icons like Debra Messing and Kristin Chenoweth (both playing themselves), but Bros excels when it’s simply being a specialized rom-com that treats its characters seriously and allows these two gay men to be themselves—deeply flawed, hoping to improve, but mostly happy with who they are. There’s a sequence where Luke brings Bobby to meet his family, and it doesn’t go well, but likely not for the reasons you’d suspect. It’s perhaps the most authentic moment in the movie, and it throws a wrench in the relationship that makes it easy to believe that Bros might not want everything to conclude happily ever after; that’s just the kind of alternative rom-com on display here, and I found it equal parts funny and moving.
The film is now playing theatrically.
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