There has been a lot of discussion of the movie Bros in the last few weeks after its opening weekend box-office gross was below expectations and Hollywood basically labeled the film as a "flop." Writer and star of the film Billy Eichner said on social media that "straight people [...] didn't show up for Bros" and that it was "disappointing, but that's what it was." That tweet was later deleted but the audience reception to an explicitly gay rom-com that was released by a major Hollywood studio in movie theaters was bound to get a lot of tongues wagging and think pieces written and read. However, despite the historic nature of the release of Bros, in the end I think the main reason is that it's just not a very good movie, and that may be the reason why ore people didn't rush out to see it and make it a box-office success. (Right now it's still an open question of whether it will make a profit, but it seems very unlikely .)
To be more precise, I do think that there's a version of Bros which could have been a very good movie. The major flaw in Bros is the casting of Eichner as the lead character. Eichner plays Bobby, a somewhat neurotic podcast host and executive director of the inaugural National Museum of LGBTQ History. He is happy to go on Tinder and Grindr "dates" to hookup with other New York City gays. Eventually he runs into Aaron (played by Luke MacFarlane), a hunky, handsome estate lawyer who hates his job and is also happy to "play the field." Eichner's Bobby spends a lot of his time yelling his (admittedly funny) lines to anyone within earshot, which includes his coworkers, his straight friends, Aaron, Aaron's mom and many more. The first problem with casting Eichner as the lead is that he doesn't have the dramatic chops to provide a nuanced portrayal of Bobby, so he comes across as a bitter queen. I think it is at least possible that a more nuanced actor could have played the role as written where Bobby is still annoying and acerbic but in a way that the audience could still root for him to succeed. I appreciate what Eichner was trying to do with Bros: create a gay rom-com without sanding over the rough (or unfamiliar to non-gay folks) edges of urban gay life to not scare off the straight people. But even as a gay man, I thought Bobby's character was A LOT and problematic in multiple ways. (He has a LOT of opinions on how gay people comport themselves which frankly would have seemed homophobic or demeaning if said by a straight character and even by the end of the movie it's not clear that his opinion about other gays has really changed that much.)
The second problem with casting Eichner as the lead is the resultant glaring lack of diversity in the two leads. In 2022 to think that a gay rom-com should have two gay white dudes as the lead is just hubris and tone deaf. (It stuns me that the coin-counters and pencil pushers at the studio thought this concept would be one that is worth spending $20-30 million on production and marketing. But then again, how much do you want to bet these fiduciary decisions were not being made by a diverse set of greenlighters at the studio?) Yes, the film (cleverly) tries to overcome this lack of diversity in the leads by adding cameos from gay icons as well as making Bobby's workplace a setting with a tapestry of the members of the LGBTQ rainbow. There's a butch lesbian, not one but two(!) transwomen of color, a bisexual and a Generation Z non-binary person who constantly streams their life online. But in now way are these characters are central to the story. The other notable bit of diverse casting in Bros was in an (actually pretty funny) hookup scene that Bobby has with a muscular, masculine Black guy after meeting him at the gym during a "straight-acting" phase. The hookup doesn't end well when Bobby's post-coital voice is an octave higher than his pre-coital one and this revelation that Bobby's butchness was a facade (unsurprisingly) freaks the Black guy out, but maybe not for the reason we might think at first. "Well, would you have hooked up with me if I had talked like this before?" Bobby asks, and the guy says, "Yeah, probably, because you're hot." "Thanks!" Bobby says. "But not now! Now you just seem weird!". On the way out Bobby notices a huge Barbra Streisand poster next to the door, which shows that even butch Black gay guys in New York City love their divas! Yay, intersectionality!
With all that said there are lots of good parts of Bros to like. There are fun cameos by gay icons like Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy), Bowen Yang (Fire Island), and Debra Messing (Will and Grace) to name just a few. Aaron is very easy on the eyes to look at, and we see a LOT of him (and his well-sculpted body), as the film doesn't hesitate from depicting typical sexual situations gay men like Aaron and Bobby get into in an urban mecca like New York City (and Provincetown). That fact that almost gthe entire cast (even the straight roles) are played by well-known out LGBT actors is kinda cool. Also, the script is firmly committed to being a parody of Lifetime romantic comedies (this is a fun inside joke, because the actor who plays Aaron has been in more than a dozen of them) and these gags are well-executed. The film has interesting things to say about body image in gay men and how the trappings of (hyper)masculinity distort how gay men interact with each other in multiple social settings (from hookup apps to gyms to going out to even just walking down the street).
But in the end, although the audience is supposed to be rooting for Aaron and Bobby to get together, it's hard to make that sale because I, for one, didn't buy that the two are actually right for each other. Bobby has a LOT of internalized homophobia which comes out as extreme criticism of modern gay life and an reluctance/inability to commit. Aaron has the more interesting character arc as he makes changes to his life when the initial relationship between Aaron and Bobby doesn't work out because of both of their insecurities. (This is not a spoiler because of course in any rom-com the two star-crossed lovers don't live happily ever after after the first fling!) Another interesting twist on the rom-com is that the movie ends with the two just promising "to date each other for three month and re-assess" not a lifetime commitment (sic) and that gives the overall plot verisimilitude with these characters.
Overall, I agree with some of the reviews who say that even though Bros was not the historic achievement Bill Eichner wanted it to be, it is still a milestone in LGBT cinema that he should be proud of and I am glad it was made and exists in the media landscape. After all, for true equality, LGBTQ people need to have the right to have all sorts of media telling our stories, and some will be crappy and some will be sublime. (My primary complaint is that we still really haven't had a diverse LGBT film that connects with today's audiences.) The one thing Bros did do successfully is to bring us closer to the day where the future of LGBTQ representation in the media is not dependent on any single vehicle.
Director: Nicholas Stoller.
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use.
Release Date: September 30, 2022.
Viewing Date: October 3, 2022.
Overall Grade: B/B+ (3.16/4.0).
Star Rating: ★★★½☆☆ (3.5/5.0).