What worries I might have had about the film Bros, the first studio-released romantic comedy about gay men that stars out gay actors, are pretty quickly allayed in director Nicholas Stoller’s charming film. Co-written by and starring comedian Billy Eichner, Bros is certainly aware that it’s taking some big steps into the mainstream and is cognizant of the attendant responsibility of that. But the film doesn’t let itself be hampered by its accomplishment. Instead, Bros leans into the giddy little revolution of its own existence, inviting the audience into a good, gay time that hasn’t exactly happened, in this way, before.
Of course, to make those leaps into the multiplex ecosystem, some compromises had to be made. Stoller is straight, unlike Andrew Ahn, who directed this summer’s Hulu-released gay comedy Fire Island. Judd Apatow, a prolific purveyor of straight-boy comedy for over two decades now, is a producer whose influence on the film is felt throughout. But Bros never feels like a gay movie whose mandate is to be palatable to straight people. The film is directly in dialogue with its own community, or at least some subset of that amorphous and ever-expanding group.
Eichner plays Bobby, a popular podcast host and public wit who has been given the chance of a lifetime: he’s part of a committee assembled to design and program the nation’s first-ever LGBTQ+ history museum. Identity is at the fore in Bobby’s life, he’s fashioned all his caustic and voluble observations about his own queerness (and, let’s be honest, that of others) into a prodigious career.
In all that outsized assertion, Bobby has isolated himself. (I don’t think it’s an accident that he shares a name with the lonely confirmed bachelor of Stephen Sondheim’s Company.) He’s 40 and single, outwardly wary of commitment for vaguely political reasons—why settle down like the straights?—but inwardly wracked with anxiety. He figures he’s too hairy, too loud, too flamboyant, and certainly not brawny enough to exist at the hot, white (decidedly white) center of New York City’s gay galaxy.
This is a familiar concern, one expressed in myriad artistic forms over the years, albeit in media far less commercial than a major motion picture. The gaze of Grindr presents a narrow little world of suspiciously muscled hunks, shirtlessly enjoying their lives while everyone else watches on, horny and aching, from the sidelines. That tension is made manifest in Bobby’s life when he meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), just such a gym god with a deep voice who, somehow, seems interested in Bobby.
As Bros rambles along, Bobby and Aaron negotiate their differences, both the superficial and the more foundational. Aaron isn’t quite a parody of masc-for-masc self-loathing—Bros is, in all its arch verve, too humane a film for that—but there’s an uneasiness at his center that could be interpreted as denial. Bobby, meanwhile, has become rigid in all his supposed big-minded understanding; he’s so convinced he has figured out the gay forest that he keeps missing its trees.
Anyone familiar with Eichner’s loopy television series Billy on the Street will recognize the particular brand of reference-y, biting humor that gives Bros its acerbic pep. What’s new is a layer of sweetness and introspection, an Apatovian wistfulness that rounds out the film’s prickly edges. Eichner proves as adept at semi-seriousness as he is at comedy. Maybe even more so—some of my favorite moments in the film are when Bobby (and, probably, Billy) takes a break from his routine to sincerely explain himself, to expound on his own nature in a rare expression of vulnerability.
Bros juggles its intra-social politics well. Sure, the film may be a bit lopsided toward Bobby’s perspective on things, but such is the perhaps necessary imbalance of a romantic comedy like this. Aaron is given his fair due, but this is really Bobby’s story, one that seeks to merely recognize and mull over the vagaries of gay life rather than solve them. Bros does so with appealing brio, discursive and silly and, where it really counts, sexy.
Which isn’t to say that the film will satisfy everyone. There’s much to be picked apart here, analyzed for faults in reason and argument, lamented for a lack of this and that. To the film’s credit, though, Bros seems to welcome that discourse; there’s a self-effacing quality to Eichner’s writing that acknowledges its limits and encourages more dialogue, more and varied narratives in the future.
It’s mostly a good time, though, cheeky and clever. A bevy of welcome cameos from gay pop-culture icons adds winsome pepper, while Eichner and Macfarlane’s sideways chemistry offers plenty to swoon over as they stroll and chat in a graciously filmed Manhattan and, for a brief but no doubt expensive jaunt, Provincetown. Eichner has gleefully accepted the largesse of a major studio and made something that is particularly his. What he doesn’t do, thankfully, is close things off at the end. There is little sense of definitiveness here; Bros may be some kind of trailblazer depending on which metric you’re using, but it’s not smug about that status. Its happy blare is only getting the party started—or, maybe more accurately, keeping it going.