At the start of the new “Bros” movie, our grumpy hero, Bobby (Billy Eichner), a podcaster with chronic relationship phobia, sits at his microphone and fumes. “So these big movie producers came to me and said, ‘We want you to write a romantic comedy about a gay couple,'” he says. A producer, in a flashback, asks Bobby for something a straight guy would go to see, a movie that “shows the world that gay relationships and straight relationships are the same. Love is love c is love!” “Love is love is love?” Bobby retorts, grimacing at the regurgitation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony speech. “No it’s not. It’s nonsense! . . . Our friendships are different. Our sex lives are different. Our relationships are different. A few minutes later, as if to prove the point, we see Bobby shaving the ass for a guy on a hookup app that demands an “ass pic”.
“Bros,” which opens this week, is a gay rom-com from Universal Pictures, a combination of words that earned it the much-vaunted distinction of being the “first major-studio gay rom-com.” That first scene with the fictional producer points to the question that drives much of what follows: how well can you map a gay love story to the classic rom-com formula, or vice versa? The film, co-written by Eichner and its director, Nicholas Stoller, references — and wrestles with — romantic comedy tropes. Bobby watches “You’ve Got Mail” on the couch, but instead of AOL he has Grindr. On her first date with studious love Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), they go to see a movie, then end up having a foursome at a “gender reveal orgy.” There’s a sex scene on Nat King Cole’s rendition of “When I Fall In Love,” an ostensibly Nora Ephron-esque choice. There’s the inescapable Christmas party scene, during which Aaron asks permission to sleep and Bobby sarcastically refers to “When Harry Met Sally.” Other familiar rom-com beats pass quickly — the sunny Upper West Side walk, the season-changing montage, the relationship-testing fight, the last big romantic gesture — but they’re consciously intertwined with jokes about poppers, hollows and Caitlyn Jenner.
Simultaneously, the film tangles with another relationship between queer identity and the mainstream: the place of white cisgender homosexuals. Bobby’s podcast is called ‘The 11th Brick at Stonewall’ – because the first ten bricks were probably thrown by lesbians or trans women of color, he reasons – and he wins an award for Cis White Gay Man of the Year. Bobby sits on the board of an LGBTQ+ museum, whose members represent a cross section of bickering queer identities, each fighting for more of the story they tell. When Bobby’s idea of an exposition on Abraham Lincoln’s alleged homosexuality is shelved at the same time that Aaron seems attracted to more masculine men, Bobby throws a fit, shouting, “Is anyone could someone tell me exactly how gay i’m supposed to be? He’s too gay for Aaron, but not queer enough for post-gay politics. He belongs to the most privileged slice of a marginalized community – and the film seems aware that his cis-white homosexuality is part of the reason it was made by a major studio.
In other words, “Bros” reckon with the same tension over assimilation that has angered the LGBTQ rights movement for the past half-century, whether through same-sex marriage debates or corporate floats at protest marches. pride. (Luckily, it’s much, much funnier than most of these debates.) Whether it’s ’70s bathhouse or ’90s “Will & Grace,” the instinct to blend in and prove that “we are like everyone else” ran up against a radical vision of life outside of heteronormative constraints. “Bros” isn’t polemical or complacent, and it toes the line with a sidelong eye both ways. Even as Eichner positioned the film as a groundbreaking pop culture event – one that could show “all homophobes in the Supreme Court we want gay love stories”, as he shouted at MTV Video Music Awards, in August – the film itself seems to question the value of entering the mainstream. As Bobby laments an oddly supportive straight couple, “gay sex was more fun when straight guys weren’t comfortable with it.”
The film lands at a confusing time for the LGBTQ movement. We’re well past the point of wondering if America will accept a queer celebrity like Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, or RuPaul. Harry Styles, one of the biggest pop stars of the moment, seems to want his sexuality to remain a blank canvas on which his fans can project whatever degree of queerness they desire. And yet, the conservative backlash is evident in Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and a rising tide of transphobic laws and rhetoric. “Bros” innovates, but it is far from being the first great gay film. It’s treading a path previously swept by mainstream comedies like “In & Out” and “The Birdcage” (which weren’t technically roms) and dramas like “Brokeback Mountain” and “Moonlight” (which weren’t coms), though it makes a point to roll your eyes at straight actors who play gay to chase Oscars, and its main cast is completely LGBTQ “Love, Simon,” a major studio release from 2018, gave a gay spin on John Hughes-style teen romance drama. “Bros” also comes on the heels of “Fire Island,” the comedy released on Hulu that had queer Asian American roles and also toyed with rom-com tropes — it was even based on the rom-com, Jane’s “Pride.” austin. and prejudices. And, of course, there is a rich tradition of independent queer cinema – works by Todd Haynes and Pedro Almodóvar and many others to name them – that have flourished outside of the Hollywood studio system and its everyday genres.
“Bros” is nothing if not aware of all this thorny background, political and cultural, and treats it with an irreverent bite. Eichner, whose man-on-the-street videos have established him as a world-class screamer, is an ideal guide to the contradictions of white homosexuality in 2022. (His character has elements of Larry Kramer and Dan Savage. ) and proud gay jew shit who just wants to be happy, and who are you to tell him he’s outdated? “Bros” was co-produced by Judd Apatow, who helped create vehicles for comedic characters such as Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Kumail Nanjiani and Pete Davidson, and is playing on more than three thousand screens. I confess that I had ignored the “first gay rom-com from a major studio” until I started seeing “Bros” posters, with their casual ass-kicking, on what seemed like every train station. road trips from New York and Toronto, where the film thrilled crowds earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival. That’s when I started to realize that being a big studio product means having big studio marketing muscle, which means positioning ‘Bros’ as a movie for everyone, even straight people. , exactly what the fictional producer of the film wants. But will it work?
“We never saw this as a niche or fringe movie,” Universal marketing director Michael Moses told me last week. The marketing of “Bros”, he said, is “both aimed at LGBTQ communities, but also signals to a mainstream audience that the intent is to be broad and welcoming.” Rather than gay films like “The Birdcage”, Moses cited another Apatow project, “Bridesmaids”, as a precedent. “When this came out, there was a kind of referendum: Can women direct a steamy, R-rated comedy? Or is it the domain of men, which had been largely the case until then? And then, years later, “Girls Trip” – can black actresses center an R-rated comedy and lead to mainstream success? Turns out the answer is, if the movie is good enough, yes.
Even though “Bros” places itself in the tradition of classic rom-coms, Moses pointed out that rom-com itself isn’t exactly at its peak, at least on the big screen. “Put aside the term ‘gay’ for a moment,” he told me. “The rom-com genre has largely migrated to streamers, and so that’s actually, I think, the biggest thing to overcome in a lot of ways, getting a rom-com out in a big way. The gay spin actually gives it definition, purpose, and personality. So that’s the challenge between the golden age of romantic comedies, in the 80s and 90s, and now, just the migration to the couch. The pandemic has made it difficult for any non-superhero movie to get a large theatrical audience. “Honestly, we’re in a bit of uncharted territory here,” Moses said. In some ways, he was pondering the same question as his fictional “Bros” counterpart: Will straight guys go see him? At the same time, will the “mainstream” LGBTQ audience still feel like they represent them? Moses hoped “Bros” would become a “destination for a date night, whether it’s one man and one woman or two men or two women” — a tall order when date nights often involve Netflix and a couch.
With all of these variables, it would be wrong to take this weekend’s box office as a test of how much America really loves gay people, or gay movies, or gay movies in theaters, even if the results will inevitably be interpreted as such. Think of him more as a cantankerous voice in the confusion of today’s gay identity – torn, as always, between pride and prejudice – and as a point of evolution in a genre that he deconstructs in the blink of an eye. eye from within. If “Bros” is a test of anything, it’s empathy. Bobby and Aaron meet cute, have sex, reveal their vulnerabilities, fall in love, fight, and try to work out the distance between them, all in a way that is and isn’t familiar to straight couples. Can a straight audience see themselves in them, while appreciating the differences? Gay romantic comedies have been doing the same for decades. ♦