PLOT A gay man falls for a straight-seeming hunk.
CAST Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane
RATED R (explicit sex and raunchy humor)
WHERE Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE A gay cinematic landmark that also happens to be a very smart and funny rom-com.
“Love is not love,” Billy Eichner insists in “Bros” — an unlikely sentiment coming from the first openly gay man to co-write and star in a major-studio Hollywood rom-com. Eichner is speaking in character as Bobby, a podcaster and museum curator in New York City who delights in letting the air out of gay orthodoxy and woke sanctimony even as he lives his life out and proud. He's part Larry Kramer, part Bill Maher.
This fierce, prickly character isn’t too far removed from Eichner’s own comedic persona (on television shows like “Difficult People” and “Billy on the Street”) and he’s the reason “Bros” is such a sharp, fresh and ultimately winning comedy. Yes, the movie is an all-important Gay Milestone, but it’s also a very funny and often tender film built on the oldest of romantic premises: Opposites attract. In this case, one is a grouchy intellectual, the other is a somewhat shallow beauty named Aaron (Luke Macfarlane).
That setup becomes a springboard for Eichner, who wrote the screenplay with director Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), to explore various gay issues and skewer them in ways that only an insider could: The humdrum hookups of Grindr, the awkwardness of orgies, the fading shock-value of queer culture (“Gay sex was more fun when straight people were uncomfortable with it,” Bobby complains). Some of the funniest scenes involve Bobby’s lesbian, bisexual and transgender co-workers at the LGBTQ+ Museum — all played by openly queer actors — who argue about who among them is the most oppressed.
With all the pointed commentary, the main conflict between Bobby and Aaron takes a while to emerge. Eventually, we realize that Aaron’s machismo — big muscles, baseball cap, low voice — makes him a gay status symbol but a problematic boyfriend: He’s spiritually, if not technically, closeted. Aaron even tries to get Bobby to be less "flamboyant," especially around family. Bobby’s response is a moving and eloquent monologue about growing up gay in a world that refused to acknowledge him. It's either a terrific piece of acting from Eichner, or not an act at all.
“Bros” has had some of its thunder stolen by “Fire Island,” a gay twist on the Jane Austen genre that premiered on Hulu earlier this summer. (Look for that film's star, Bowen Yang, in a cameo here). "Bros" is a much more polished studio product, however and that's partly what makes it so groundbreaking: Here's a gay romantic comedy that doesn’t shy away from explicit sex (or emotional intimacy), yet still sticks to the tried-and-true formulas we’ve loved for decades. The proof will be in the box office, perhaps, but “Bros” is a major step forward for — as Bobby’s co-workers might put it — visibility and representation.