Forgive the cheap metaphor, but Bros was a comedy that came and went, theatrically anyway. Written and starring comedian Billy Eichner, it was sold as the first LGBTQ-centered comedy released by a major studio, a marketing effort that sounds like it could be a rallying cry for inclusion or desperation. We’ve had decades of indie and direct-to-video attempts at a breakout performance, though the closest (and most recent) was 2020’s Kristen Stewart-led Happiest Season, which launched on Hulu so it technically doesn’t count as theatrical.
Even with all its Pride colored window dressing, Bros – as with any comedy – would have been judged on how funny it actually is, not how many checkboxes it manages to tick off. Unfortunately, as a comedy it’s less groundbreaking and more treading water, unsure what it wants to be – and for whom. Some 25 years after blockbusters like The Birdcage and Inside Out, we’ve still got a long way to go before comedy trumps identity.
Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner) hosts an LGBTQ-centered podcast, The Eleventh Brick at Stonewall, that just celebrated its millionth subscriber, and recently snagged a position as a curator for the upcoming new National LGBTQ+ History Museum in NYC, where he’s trying to open an exhibit about the US’s first gay President, Abraham Lincoln. Being gay is everything to Bobby, as is being single, and he’s perfectly happy with Grinder hookups. Or so he thinks.
But his life is about to turn upside-down when he meets Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane) at a club, a hypermasculine dude-bro who says he’s not looking for anything serious… or is he? Naturally, the two guys couldn’t be any more different, always a great setup for a romantic comedy.
Bros generally plays by conventional rom-com standards, hitting all the necessary beats expected of the genre in ways that are shockingly predictable give the references to golden showers and depictions of group sex. Meet cutes, throuples, unclear definitions on monogamy, fights, breakups, and resolutions. All the standards are here. How funny you’ll actually find any of it depends on your tolerance for gay humor, and by ‘gay humor’ I mean humor explicitly referencing, alluding to, or centering around “being gay” as the joke.
Nearly every joke resolves around the gayness of characters, gay culture, breaking (or reinforcing) gay stereotypes, or meta-commentary about the commercialization of gay culture for straight audiences. Gay, gay, and more gay still. After a while it feels less slapstick and more like projection, and whatever good intentions the filmmakers had with normalizing gay relationships gets lost in the zest for gayness, which comes dangerously close to suffocating.
As I imagine most will, I watched Bros once it hit streaming services, which is where most thought it should have been released in the first place. Not because of its LGBTQ content, but because mainstream comedies – regardless of their sexuality – just don’t make money in theaters anymore. Not that Bros is mainstream, but its marketing focused so much on it being “the first” LGBTQ rom-com it made the film look more like a civics lesson than a comedy.
It would have been interesting to see Bros with an actual audience, preferably a mostly straight audience, to see how they’d react to some of the more outrageous content. To see if they laughed with, and not at, characters and behaviors that have been largely relegated to stereotypes and punchlines in most comedies since the dawn of cinema. Even with its lazy stereotyping, there are genuine sparks of comedy here worth celebrating.
Nearly everyone onscreen hails from the LGBTQ community, which was appreciated. It doesn’t help when the star, Billy Eichner, is so thoroughly unlikable we’re tempted to root against him. I’m not sure if that’s just how Eichner wrote his character or if his extreme inauthenticity and soapbox sermonizing is just an extension of his real personality. Either way, Eichner may be the worst lead in a comedy since French Stewart stunk up Love Stinks.
Luke Macfarlane fares best as the lunky, hunky Aaron Shepard, the typical ‘bro’ with a secret desire to make miniature chocolates but is also comfortable hanging with the boys. Known mostly for his endless Hallmark drivel (the channel gets several excruciating cameos), it says a lot when an openly gay actor can so easily switch between straight drek and gay drek without missing a beat. He’s quite versatile, pun intended.
Pretty much the only non-gay person in the production is director / co-writer Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Neighbors), whose résumé makes him perfect for a comedy like this. It’s also worth noting that Bros falls under the Judd Apatow umbrella, a formula that relies on vacillating between toxicity and schmaltz, but as his more recent films have shown, especially clunkers like 2015’s Trainwreck, it’s a formula that’s probably well past its sell-by date.
It’s a shame the marketing for Bros thought it needed to rely so heavily on its LGBTQ branding to sell itself, elevating activism over comedy, because it’s not a bad movie, or even a bad comedy. It’s really just a mediocre one, with a miscast Eichner (and his real-life antics) that’s more of a repellent than a plus. There are moments of inspiration, particularly from Macfarlane and some of miscellaneous cast, and it’s worlds better than the rancid Netflix ‘comedy’ Me Time, but that’s not exactly a high bar.