Billy Eichner Revives the Rom-Com in the Historic, Heartfelt, and Hilarious ‘Bros’
5/5 backwards baseball caps.
Billy Eichner’s ‘Bros’ makes history as a landmark moment of queer representation in cinema, with Eichner as the first openly gay man to co-write and star in a major motion picture. The film also has the distinction of being the first gay romantic comedy made by a major studio AND the first major studio film with an all openly LGBTQ cast. It’s a move that’s long overdue and burdened with expectations from all sides. Will the film be too gay or not gay enough? Can Bros attract a straight audience without alienating them, while still delivering the cultural specificity the queer community craves? It’s a lot of pressure on Eichner’s shoulders to deliver a crowd-pleasing queer film with universal appeal.
And it’s this pressure that Eichner’s protagonist Bobby finds himself struggling with. Bobby Lieber is a successful 40-something New Yorker, the host of popular queer history podcast “The 11th Brick at Stonewall”, and newly minted head curator at New York’s upcoming LBGTQ+ history museum. Bobby has eschewed romantic relationships, finding physical intimacy in a revolving door of Grindr hook-ups and emotional intimacy among his tight-knit group of friends and found family. And while he rejects the hetero-normative monogamous relationship structure, he doesn’t seem completely satisfied with life as it is.
But what is Bobby to do? And what does gay happily ever after look like? Is it the Hallheart Channel (a spoof of Hallmark Channel) gay Christmas rom-com? Is it a throuple relationship like the one his friends enjoy? It’s certainly not a gay love story shoehorned into the hetero rom-com conceit, with Bobby mocks during a meeting with a studio executive who wants a “straight-friendly” romantic comedy with gays. “Am I gonna be in the middle of some high speed chase and then all of a sudden fall in love with Ice Cube? Am I gonna get buttfucked by Jason Momoa while we’re both worrying about a volcano?” Bobby asks an uncomfortable studio executive (clearly this is a meeting Eichner has had more than once).
Because it’s not as simple as swapping out genders in a standard romantic comedy. Queer community has a nuanced cultural specificity all its own, encompassing a myriad of challenges and experiences that a single film can’t hope to represent. But boy does Bros come close, thanks to a focus on LGBTQ history and a cultural fluency that doesn’t talk down to its audience. Bros is boldly and proudly gay, and expects the straight audience to follow along without hand-holding. It also showcases the divisions within the queer community, hilariously displayed in the bickering between Bobby and the rest of the museum board, made up of Ts Madison (The Ts Madison Experience), Jim Rash (Community), Dot-Marie Jones (Glee), Eve Lindley (Dispatches From Elsewhere), and Miss Lawrence (Star).
More importantly, Bros succeeds wildly as what it is meant to be: a romantic comedy that is both hysterically funny and heartfelt. Fans of Eichner’s Billy on the Street and Difficult People already know that Eichner is a comedic talent, and he brings his razor-sharp pop culture critiques to the film. But the pleasant surprise of Bros is his turn as a leading man. When Bobby meets Aaron (Killjoys‘ Luke Macfarlane), a hunky estate lawyer, he finds himself falling in love. Aaron is the opposite of Bobby in many ways: a muscular heartthrob with the most basic tastes (Garth Brooks and The Office GIFs). But opposites attract, and two stumble into a romance after a series of awkward encounters. While Macfarlane is undoubtedly the “straight man” to Eichner, his character faces his own issues and insecurities, from dissatisfaction with work to the demands of maintaining his desirable bod. The two are adamant that they’re not seeking a relationship, but find themselves opening up and being vulnerable with one another. Eichner and Mcfarlane have terrific chemistry together, and their relationship is sexy, sweet, and well developed.
The film, directed by co-writer Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors) and produced by Judd Apatow, revitalizes the well-worn beats of the rom-com, delivering on big emotional moments without indulging in cliché. And while the film runs long (a common Apatow issue), it’s wildly entertaining and deeply heartfelt. Bros is not only a landmark moment for LGBTQ representation, but it’s a much-needed revolution in the romantic comedy genre. It’s the best rom-com of the year, and maybe of the decade. Don’t miss it.
Bros hits theaters on September 30, 2022.
(featured image: Universal Pictures)
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