Yeah, we’ve got to talk about this before we get to the actual movie.
Bros came out last weekend to a strong critical showing and a disappointing fourth-place finish at the box office, raking in only $4.8 million over the weekend. In response, lead actor/co-writer/executive producer Billy Eichner took to Twitter and said “straight people, especially in certain parts of the country, just didn’t show up for Bros.”
First of all, I’ll grant that we do indeed live in a time when social media can empower small-minded assholes to raise a big self-righteous stink about some movie and try to get it boycotted for flagrantly bigoted reasons. While it doesn’t always work (and thank the gods for that), we have seen a time or two when it probably did affect the bottom line — just ask the cast and crew of Ghostbusters (2016). That said (And if I’m wrong on this, somebody please correct me.), if there was ever any kind of homophobic boycott against Bros that made it a controversial social media firestorm in the months leading up to its release, I never heard about it.
Absent that, there’s my second point: Blaming critics and/or the audience for a movie’s perceived failure is never, ever a good look. It’s petty, it’s narcissistic, it’s disrespectful, and it’s frankly unfair. People make shitty movies all the time. Hell, people make GREAT movies that tank at the box office, it happens all the time. In each case, there could be any number of reasons that had nothing to do with the people making the movie, the people reviewing the movie, or the people who might’ve gone to see the movie if there weren’t hundreds or thousands of potential factors getting in the way. (COVID is still out there, just saying.)
Which brings me to my third point: We’ve got a light and breezy romcom released at the start of freaking October. Opposite a horror movie. In peak horror movie season. During an unbelievably great year for horror cinema. What in the nine hells did anyone at Universal expect would happen?!
Fourthly, it’s way, WAY too soon to write off Bros as a flop. This isn’t some billion-dollar franchise picture. We don’t have any big-name actors in the cast. This isn’t a CGI spectacular with hugely elaborate action scenes and mind-blowing visuals that demand to be seen on the biggest possible screen. It’s a freaking romantic comedy!!! What’s more, it’s a romantic comedy intensely made and marketed for a specific audience. While I’m glad this movie got the exposure and prestige of a mainstream multiplex release, there’s no way this movie was ever really going to be found or appreciated by that target audience until it hit home video, when it can be properly watched by couples snuggling on the couch with a bottle of wine between them.
Fifth and finally, there’s this.
“Ohmigod, do you guys remember straight people?”
“Yeah, they had a nice run.”
–The last two lines of the trailer for Bros
So. Billy Eichner put a joke in his own movie — in the trailer for the movie, no less! — about how straight people are waning in their social power and influence. But now that his movie tanked on opening weekend, straight people are powerful and influential enough to be blamed for why the movie didn’t hit number one at the box office. Fuck all the way out of here with that two-faced bullshit.
Speaking of which, Eichner plays Bobby Leiber, a gay podcaster and author. More importantly, he’s the executive director of the upcoming LGBTQ+ international history museum in NYC, built specifically toward Bobby’s lifelong mission of destigmatizing queerness, rolling back anti-gay persecution, and correcting history that’s been straight-washed through the generations.
Put simply, Bobby’s deal is that he’s gone through his whole personal and professional life watching cis-het people doing half the work and going twice as far. At one time or another, everyone he ever looked up to told Bobby to talk less and make himself smaller and so on. And that’s not even getting started on all the times he’s had to watch straight actors win Oscars for pretending to be gay, or all the many shallow corporate ploys condescending to the LGBTQ+ crowd to try and make a cynical buck.
Bobby devoutly believes that all of this is wrong, and that deeply held belief has made him into a relentless advocate for LGBTQ+ visibility and equity. In theory, that’s all well and good. In practice, Bobby has taken it to an all-consuming level that’s totally unhealthy and frankly psychotic.
After a lifetime of being told in various ways and means to sit down and shut up, Bobby has internalized all that trauma to such an extent that he can’t bring himself to trust or get close to anyone else. On one level, this means that he has no love life. In point of fact, Bobby has grown so completely disillusioned with love and with his fellow single gay men that he implicitly and unwittingly puts down the very people and relationships he’s devoted his life to fighting for. It should come as little surprise that Bobby keeps sabotaging his own career, alienating himself among book publishers, movie producers, and the board members of his own fledgling museum.
But on another level, Bobby has drawn himself so far inward that he’s become pathologically fixated on seeing everything through the viewpoint of a cis white gay male with a persecution complex. That is literally his entire personality. He is fundamentally incapable of understanding any other viewpoint except his own, he’s retreated so far up into his own ass.
And again, it’s not like Bobby is necessarily wrong in anything he says. He makes a lot of valid points and his passion comes from a legitimate place. But then Bobby goes off on how Jesus was gay or Abraham Lincoln was gay, purely on the grounds that nobody was allowed to be queer until relatively recently and so absence of evidence must be evidence of absence. The man is so obsessed with undoing the harm and persecution of the past, so caught up in his own trauma as a persecuted gay man, he’s incapable of holding space for anything else or recognizing when he might be going too far.
For instance, while it’s right and good to acknowledge the pain and trauma and erasure of the past, it’s worth acknowledging how far we’ve come as well. We’re living in a time when non-straight people can live openly and even love openly, at least in some parts of the world. We still have a long way to go and we should absolutely keep fighting the good fight, but queer people have authority over their own story like they never had even twenty years ago. (Shit, this movie couldn’t have been made twenty years ago, certainly not with so many openly queer actors in the cast.) Too many millions of queer people are dead of persecution or disease, without the freedom to come out or discover who they were. But millions more are living openly and happily today, and that’s worth celebrating.
To paraphrase something Bobby says in the movie, his generation had AIDS and the younger generation had “Glee”. When he says it early in the film, it was with a disdainful and condescending tone. If he had said or repeated that line somewhere around the climax, I think his tone would’ve been markedly more hopeful.
And what of Aaron, the romantic lead played by Luke Macfarlane? Well, it bears mentioning that as a gay man born and bred into the heteronormative culture of upstate New York, he’s not nearly as educated in gay culture like Bobby the NYC native. Thus he makes a good sounding board for Bobby while also providing Bobby with some badly-needed alternative viewpoints.
More importantly, while Aaron is a physical paragon who isn’t always secure in his sexuality, Bobby is perpetually insecure about his appearance and yet he’s a dominating force of personality. Bobby needs reassurance that he’s worthy of love, capable of finding mutual trust and affection with a solid life partner, and Aaron provides that. Aaron needs the confidence and ambition to get out from under his crappy day job and follow his bliss, and Bobby provides that.
The two complement each other nicely and they’re a perfectly credible romantic match… at least, on paper. In practice, Billy Eichner holds a distinct advantage as the co-writer and executive producer. Most times, it doesn’t even look like Eichner is acting, he’s just pouring his heart out onto the screen. The guy is putting every drop of his blood, sweat, and tears into this performance, and Macfarlane is nowhere near talented enough or charismatic enough to keep up with all of that. He’s clearly trying, bless his heart, but there’s simply no way for this romance to fire on all cylinders when it’s this imbalanced.
But then we get to the comedy aspect. A central underlying tenet of the film is that contrary to the talking points and rhetoric, straight love and gay love and all the different types of queer love are NOT equal or similar. As portrayed in the film, Bobby’s misadventures in sex and romance are indeed quite different from those of your average straight guy, but they’re both derived from certain similarities.
For example, Bobby frequently engages in texting through online dating apps like Grindr. And in one particular scene, Bobby exchanges text messages with an attractive guy who demands to get a dick pic — or at least an ass pic — from Bobby before they talk further. Such exchanges are also depressingly common between straight people on dating apps. But since we’re talking about two horny men trading explicit texts, as opposed to some perverted guy demanding a nude photo from some hapless woman… well, let’s just say the scene plays out very differently in the movie.
Basically put, the film argues that that men can be vain, aggressive, jealous, and pathetically desperate for sex, and those traits manifest in similar ways regardless of whether they’re gay or straight. Put it all together in a scenario of exclusively gay men and we’ve got a culture in which group sex is the accepted norm, albeit with one desperately single-minded third wheel who keeps missing out on all the action. In practice, this dynamic makes for surprisingly effective comedy in quite a few cases.
Otherwise, most of the comedy comes from the cast. Jim Rash is on hand as a board member for the LGBTQ+ museum, every bit as pathologically obsessed with bisexual visibility as Bobby is obsessed with gay male visibility, but Rash makes it a lot funnier because this kind of flamboyant neuroticism is perfectly on-brand for him. Debra Messing and Kristin Chenowith gamely appear to play parodies of themselves. Harvey Fierstein makes a brief but welcome speaking cameo appearance. Bowen Yang only really appears for one showstopping scene as a deranged TV producer. With these and other such comedic performances in the cast, they only really make an impression for maybe 30 seconds — an entire scene at most — before disappearing from the film entirely. It’s a disappointing trend, to say the least.
In the end, Bros leaves a distinct feeling of untapped potential. The cast is loaded with comedic talents who never got the chance to really own the screen as much as they could, and the romance is sadly hindered by how one-sided it is. That said, this really is Billy Eichner’s picture and he’s strong enough to carry the whole film single-handedly. Everything that makes this film poignant and funny, everything this film so eloquently says about life and romance as a gay man in a modern world while navigating an ephemeral social landscape and coping with past injustices… it’s Eichner who sells it.
That said, while the film does have a lot to say about the past, present, and future of the LGBTQ+ community, all of it deeply intelligent and meaningful, these statements primarily serve to illustrate Bobby’s growth into a happier and more open person as he slowly crawls out of his own ass. In the final analysis, it all evens out to a romcom. It’s a breezy romantic comedy, comforting in how straightforward and predictable it is.
Overall, I stand by my initial assessment: This is definitely a movie that will find its footing on home video.