Groundbreaking gay rom com Bros puts successful new spin on classic genre
Romantic comedies are a genre that don’t get a lot of play in the movie industry these days. Yes, they occasionally still get made, but they mostly exist in the slapdash world of straight-to-streaming movies, with the quality of the films varying wildly. So if a romantic comedy were to succeed as an in-theater experience in modern times, it only makes sense that it offers something completely new.
Bros definitely fits that bill as the first mainstream rom-com released in theaters to feature two gay men as its leads. Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner) is a perpetually single New Yorker who fills his days as a podcaster and heading up the effort to open the first national LGBTQ+ history museum. His “romantic” life mostly consists of the occasional unsatisfying hook-up via the app Grindr.
Bobby is actually okay with his lack of a dating life until he meets Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane) at a club. The two kinda-sorta hit it off, but Bobby’s standoffishness, Aaron’s social shyness, and their joint commitment problems keep them from going full-bore. Slowly but surely, they break down each other’s boundaries, although they still have to contend with a culture that seems to view monogamy as something to be avoided at all costs.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller and written by Eichner and Stoller, the film is packed full of jokes from the gay perspective, something that has been all-but-absent in mainstream movie history. Unless you happen to be homophobic, the jokes are fantastic from beginning to end, offering up ideas that wouldn’t work coming from a straight character, but are extremely hilarious coming from gay characters.
Billy Eichner in Bros Photo by Nicole Revelli/Universal Pictures
The slyness of much of the humor is what makes it truly stand out. The norm of straight people playing gay people in movies is brought up on multiple occasions, and there’s a great joke in the final minutes of the film that addresses it head on. Movies made by the “Hallheart” channel are a running joke in the film, something that is extra funny since Macfarlane has starred in multiple Hallmark romances as a straight character, including another one coming out this holiday season.
It’s clear that Eichner, the driving force behind the film, has a lot of love for the classic New York rom-coms, as there are multiple references to movies like When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, and others. Music and iconic locations from those films are featured throughout, although in ways that gently send them up or give a twist unique to this story.
The most revolutionary aspect of the R-rated film is how unafraid the filmmakers are of showing intimacy and sex between men. Most previous films with gay characters would only allow them a chaste kiss or intimation of sex. Bros treats gay sex as the normal thing it is, with the scenes between Bobby and Aaron (and, yes, sometimes other men) as hot and heavy as any heterosexual coupling you’ve seen before.
Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in Bros Photo by Nicole Revelli/Universal Pictures
Eichner, as anyone who’s watched his Billy on the Street YouTube videos can tell, is a force to be reckoned with comedically. He’s not your typical leading man (something he brings up multiple times in the film), but that’s a big part of what makes him so funny. It’s no accident they cast Macfarlane as Bobby’s romantic interest, as he checks all the boxes in the looks department. His acting skills aren’t always on the level of Eichner, but they don’t hurt the film in any measurable way.
Bros is one of the best romantic comedies – and comedies, period – to come out in a long time. It’s taken much too long for a film like this to be presented to the general public, and now that it’s happened, many more are sure to follow.
Bros opens in theaters on September 30.