I know. I’m late to the party. I didn’t catch Bros. in theatres on opening weekend back in September. And I wasn’t alone. I’m one of the thousands of gay men Billy Eichner shamed for “not supporting queer cinema.” I was so turned off by his Twitter tantrum I decided to wait until the film hit streaming.
And I’m glad I did!
Granted, rom-coms are notoriously difficult to pull off. You have to give the lead characters enough flaws to keep them apart, yet make us root for them despite their issues.
For example, in When Harry Met Sally, a sexist cad and a high-maintenance control freak fall in love despite themselves. And even though the characters have many unlikeable traits, we love them anyway. We see that they are made for each other, even if they can’t, and hope they come together by the final fade out.
Eichner makes that impossible in Bros. He has made a career out of being brash and playing unlikable guys. But much like the character he portrays herein, the film is very funny yet impossible to love.
We learn a lot about Bobby right at the start. He’s the director of a groundbreaking LGBTQ museum in Manhattan. He’s a podcaster. A failed screenwriter. And insufferably insufferable frump. Bobby is so strident, so shrill, so self-righteous, it’s not surprising when he confesses he’s never been in a long-term relationship.
One night, while lamenting with friends at a dance club, Bobby spies shirtless Aaron (Luke Mcfarlane) on the dance floor. Suddenly, Aaron is chatting Bobby up. Just as suddenly, Aaron disappears. Then he reappears to talk some more. They lurch into a relationship despite themselves.
I was immediately taken “out” of the film by a bitter, hard truth: There’s no way that sexy Aaron would have even noticed Bobby from the dance floor, much less chatted him up not once but twice, much less pursued a relationship with him. To paraphrase Edina Monsoon, “I can’t stretch my suspension of disbelief that far akimbo.” So one naturally wonders what Aaron’s motivations are through much of the film, which makes it hard to “root” for the couple.
The film would’ve also been more entertaining if Aaron wasn’t such a cypher. He’s pretty to look at. But one also has to wonder what attracts Bobby beyond the bulging biceps. He’s decent, sure, but not very interesting nor amusing. There’s just no “there” there.
Like Bobby, Aaron is also hesitant about relationships, but there’s really no discernable reason given as to why Bobby suddenly changes Aaron’s outlook. You sense that Aaron simply isn’t attracted to Bobby. And we never really see any reason why Aaron grows to love Bobby despite that fact.
A more realistic scenario: They could have met online through Grindr or such. Bobby could have enticed Aaron with a sizeable dick pick, but Aaron would be disappointed to learn what’s attached to it. That would’ve been a far more interesting and realistic set up (and would’ve taken advantage of the lack of chemistry between the two lead actors).
The movie’s biggest mistake? Bobby goes off on a gay-rights tirade and makes an absolute asshole of himself while meeting Aaron’s conservative parents. It feels wildly unbelievable that Bobby would be so stupid or thoughtless. Even more unbelievable? Aaron forgives Bobby! That Aaron would forgive him so quickly – or at all – after the scene Bobby creates is totally unrealistic. A heartbreaking split would’ve provided a better, and more honest, ending.
But by the time that ending comes, you’re likely to have segued into “hate watching.” The tone is all-over-the-place. Is it a farce? A rom-com? A raunchy comedy? It’s hard to tell, as the film flip flops from absurdity to romance to (attempted) pathos.
At least it’s a noble effort. Eichner filled his cast with many openly out actors and actresses. (It’s particularly fun to see Married with Children’s Amanda Bearse again as Aaron’s mom). And Eichner doesn’t pull any punches. But maybe he should have. Because the result is a fairly negative snapshot of the LGBTQ community – stereotypical characters constantly fighting. (I’m not saying that we don’t fight amongst ourselves, or that we don’t sometimes fit those stereotypes. But there’s more to gay life and gay love than what Eichner shows here. A lot more.)
Much has been written about the film’s failure to crossover to straight audiences, which Universal had clearly hoped for (and which is parodied in an early scene). To which I reply, “WHAT?” As we watched one explicit scene after another with our friends Jim and Manny, we frequently asked each other, “Would your parents enjoy seeing this?” The answer was always a big, fat NO!
How do you make a gay love story that feels honest to LGBTQ audiences, yet still appeals to straights? By walking a very fine line. That’s why films like Brokeback Mountain don’t come along every day.
Well, at least he tried. Better luck next time, Billy!