Romantic comedies are a staple of American cinema, with their safe, comfortable formulas and predictably happy endings. Generally speaking, they tell a love story about straight couples. A man and a woman meet, they fall in love, some obstacles of varying intensity threaten to keep them apart, then they overcome to live happily ever after. That description is kind of reductive, but the point remains. They really only tell the story of one group of people; that being straight people.
There have been some gay romantic comedies over the last couple of decades. However, for the most part, they don’t change the perspective as significantly as you would think. They tend to just stick the non-straight characters into the same exact formula that was created for the straight ones. It is basically assuming that these types of situations are identical for everyone, regardless of their sexuality (it also makes things more easily palatable for hypothetical straight audiences, who the studios believe would be turned off by a story dealing with gay characters that were deeper than mere stereotypes). After all, love is love, so why couldn’t these stories be the same?
Well, the gay romantic comedy Bros (110 minutes without the end credits) is not exactly the same. It is a direct rebuke to that concept. It takes the formula, applies it effectively, then goes outside of it for scenes that absolutely couldn’t be about a straight couple. The screenplay is honest, smart and very funny. It has a lot to say about straight actors playing gay characters in an attempt at Oscar glory, as well as movies about gay people that know nothing about them. There has been a lot of talk (rightfully so) for many years in Hollywood about representation and different groups being allowed the opportunity to tell their story from their perspective at a mainstream level. That is precisely what Bros is. It is also one of the best comedies of the year.
Bobby, insecure, though proud of who he is, is a minor New York celebrity who is using the popularity from his podcast to work on his dream project: an LBGTQ+ history museum. Then, at a party for a friend, he meets Aaron. Aaron is handsome, quiet and struggles with his self-confidence. Gradually and tentatively, they enter into a relationship that causes both men to reassess their life choices and desire to remain uncommitted.
Cowriters Nicholas Stoller (who directed) and Billy Eichner (who stars as Bobby) do an excellent job of balancing the humor, the romance and the surprisingly strong message. Eichner is hilarious as Bobby, showing some of his trademark anger, while creating a more complex individual. The anger is mixed with passion, first for his work and then for Aaron. Luke Macfarlane is also very good as Aaron, essentially playing the opposite of Bobby, yet in a way which implies that he kind of wishes he could be like him, at least sometimes. Their relationship is legitimately engaging. The central part of crafting an enjoyable romantic comedy is in presenting two characters the audience wants to see end up together. Eichner and Macfarlane are both charming enough, and Bobby and Aaron are both likeable (and flawed) enough, to make that definitely the case.
Bros is heartfelt and occasionally even quite moving. Eichner has one speech in particular that felt like it came from the performer as much as from the character and really gets across why the filmmakers thought it was important for them to make this. The fact that its message directly leads to several good one-liners is the icing on the cake. But don’t get scared away. Bros isn’t a “message picture.” It is a comedy that happens to have a little bit more on its mind. To emphasize that, I will close with: It’s very funny. Go see it.
4 out of 5
Billy Eichner as Bobby Leiber
Luke Macfarlane as Aaron Shepard
Monica Raymund as Tina
Guillermo Díaz as Edgar
Guy Branum as Henry
Jim Rash as Robert
Eve Lindley as Tamara
Wanda as Miss Lawrence
Dot-Marie Jones as Cherry
Ts Madison as Angela
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Written by Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller