Do You Even ‘Bros’?
Billy Eichner is hilarious in short bursts, but he’s no romantic hero
Billy Eichner is a misanthropic comedian best consumed in short angry bursts, like in his web series Billy on the Street or his 30-minute Seinfeld-on-steroids sitcom Difficult People. He’s not bad looking and he seems to have hired a personal trainer recently so maybe he or his agent figured that if Billy Crystal could do straight rom-coms like When Harry Met Sally, Eichner could do a gay rom com. He can’t. He’s funny, and as co-writer, he has some things to say about gay relationships and representation, but ultimately, he lacks the charm or likeability one needs to hold an audience’s attention for the duration of a romantic comedy that clocks in at slightly less than two hours.
BROS ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: Nicolas Stoller
Written by: Billy Eichner, Nicolas Stoller
Starring: Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane
Running time: 115 min
Maybe that’s why Bros (directed and co-written by industry veteran Nicholas Stoller and produced by Judd Apatow) hedges by trying valiantly to deconstruct the rom-com. Eichner doesn’t have to likeable or charming if it’s not really a rom-com, but a commentary on how being gay and single isn’t that bad and that gay relationships are different than straight relationships. That doesn’t quite work either. As a result, Bros isn’t sure if it wants to be sincere or ironic…or both. One moment, it’s savagely making fun of the gay community and all of its attendant wokeisms, one moment later, someone’s having an “aha” moment. Spoiler alert: the two men end up together in the end, but they don’t marry. Instead, they decide to date for three months and see how it goes. Happy ending…but not quite. Cake…but eating it too.
Luke Macfarlane, his love interest Aaron, is no Meg Ryan either. He’s very good looking but strangely un-swoon-worthy. He’s the sort of chap you see walking down Eighth Avenue wearing a tank top who makes you wonder if you should be going to the gym more often and investing in those protein powders. At one point they try to humanize him with a monologue about how he once wanted to be a chocolatier but went to law school instead….but it’s not clear if Bros intends for this monologue to be ridiculously funny or genuine.
The two men meet at a dance club. The movie doesn’t throw them together by circumstance like with other rom-com couples who hate each other, but when they start dating each other in a strangely detached way, it’s not clear why they’re bothering to do so. They have mild disagreements, but no sexually-charged, spiteful arguments.
The movie seems to take an interesting turn when at one point they seem to have ended up in bed together only to have the camera pull back to indicate that two other men have joined them. Many gay men are in open relationships where stuff like this happens and it’s about time a rom-com explores this sort of arrangement. But then the very convention it wants to subvert reappears despite itself when they decide to become monogamous. This causes one of their biggest conflicts when Aaron cheats on Bobby. But when this happens, it’s hard to feel sympathy for Bobby because they were just having group sex with the very guy with the same guy that Aaron was snogging in an alley. Not that open relationships don’t get complicated on their own terms, but the movie doesn’t quite account for that shift.
Additionally, their central conflict seems to be that neither of them believes in relationships and also Bobby is more “gay identified” and Aaron is more “basic.” Aaron is also more conventionally hot than Bobby and this drives Bobby into fits of despair. One aspect of the classic straight rom-com that they dispense with is that the girl (usually) is klutzy and unkempt, but the boy likes her anyway. Aaron clearly prefers classically attractive and masculine guys and it’s refreshing that he never atones for that…. but when they end up together it’s a little confusing as to how that actually happened.
As a series of skits about gay life, the movie can be quite hilarious. Bobby has many painful encounters on Grindr that ring true to life. And he sits on the board of directors for an LGBT History Museum featuring plenty of savagely funny internecine strife. There is a fantasy sequence in which two characters who have just announced they’re in a thruple, call one of their grandparents to break the good news. But the sum of its parts doesn’t really become anything. Bros should have been a web series, not a theatrically released movie.