‘Bros’ Isn’t Perfect, But It’s Important — and Hopefully a Sign of More to Come
Bros — the first studio-produced gay rom-com directed by Nicholas Stoller and co-written by its star Billy Eichner — is not, and cannot be, all things to all people. Self-aware to a fault, the film reminds us throughout its run time that the gay community is too diverse for one entertaining movie to encompass while both apologizing for, and exploiting, the cis white men at its center.
While the movie lives and dies on how much you care about the romantic roundelay between the neurotic, acerbic Bobby Lieber (Eichner, of course) and the laconic, beautiful probate lawyer Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), the writers — knowing the importance of representation down to a microscopic level — give their leading man the perfect job as the executive director of the first LGBTQ+ museum as it prepares to open to the world.
The museum’s creative board is a bomber crew of types: we get a lesbian (Dot-Marie Jones), a bisexual (Jim Rash), a Black trans woman (Ts Madison), a non-binary glamazonian (Miss Lawrence) and so on. They’re the Greek chorus of Bros, bickering about the types of exhibits the museum should host, and airing a long, long list of grievances and slights amongst the larger LGBTQ+ community, and the erasure of our history by the outside world.
This crew, while representative in a way we haven’t seen in Hollywood product, is just as archetypal (and, occasionally, stereotypical) as those old movies (and don’t think Eichner and Stoller are unaware of this). They are also pretty damn funny, especially when they’re sniping about Bisexual Awareness Week or Lesbian Pride Month or how to represent Abraham Lincoln (if at all): Was he gay? Bisexual? Are the trove of personal letters between Lincoln and his rumored male lover enough to claim him as one of our own? The only thing they all seem to agree on, except for Bobby, is how much they love Schitt’s Creek.
What’s great about the scenes in the museum is that the conversations, though heightened for comedy, aren’t too far off the mark from real life. This is how some of us talk amongst ourselves when we aren’t under the microscope of society at large. It’s also — ahem — educational, and not only for the non-LGBTQ+ audience whose knowledge of gay history is Stonewell, AIDS, Will & Grace and RuPaul, but for a vast number of our own who — as Bobby and Aaron point out in their first “meet-cute” — can be insanely stupid.
There’s a lot of pressure on Bros to be true to the gay (male) experience of dating/hooking up, to represent the broader multitudes, and to rope in an audience beyond those with a core interest to see a glossy Hollywood rom-com about two men. It doesn’t fully succeed, and that’s alright. Much like Eichner’s combative persona, it steamrolls right over any concerns or oversights by just being funny and, every now and then, emotional.
How you respond to the couple at the center of Bros will depend on how much you like Eichner and his brand of humor. He shows us the pain behind the mask in a few monologues that are both searingly honest and, more than anything else, here for an outsider’s understanding of institutional oppression. (They’re well written and acted by Eichner, but they’re speeches.) He’s also a wonderfully uninhibited physical comic; I found him more appealing than in anything I’ve seen him in thus far. Still, for many he’s grating, and hiding that within the character of Bobby Lieber only goes so far.
Luke Macfarlane, the hunky Canadian actor who it seemed would be relegated to the trash heap of Hallmark holiday movies, is a leading man in the classic Hollywood mold. He’s available, yet unobtainable. Aloof and smoldering. Simple (or “boring,” as a bitchy friend tells Bobby when they see Aaron across a crowded gay bar), but very complicated. He’s Cary Grant with smooth abs and a propensity for group sex (no commitment), and Macfarlane knows how to pine. The way he looks at Bobby tells you all you need to know about the emotions roiling up inside him, and when the inevitable “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her” moment occurs, the twinkle in his tear-filled eyes is more than enough.
Bros isn’t perfect. It couldn’t be. Yet it’s solid and — sadly, because of its rarity — important. Let’s hope it’s also a first step for more: of the same, of better, of worse, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the opportunity to write our own stories, our own histories, as Bros makes abundantly clear.