Bros is a fascinating mess.

There’s a sense in which Nicholas Stoller and Billy Eichner have stumbled serendipitously, and totally improbably, into this perfect, accidental synergy of style and substance. The best word for it is clunky. And, honestly, that’s kind of perfect for a movie that wants to be about clunky gay bros and clunky closed-off gay non-bros clunkily bumping into each other until they find their Hallmark love.

It wants to be about being gay in a culture that’s. . . kind of okay with it now?—making incisive remarks about what it means to be gay in a world that’s gone from hating gays to playing gays for an Oscar. What space is there for you in a place that simultaneously wants to stone you, exploit you, sell to you, harness your popularity, fly under your colors, venerate you, and deify you? Even in this—as Bros busies itself allowing Billy Eichner to fit in as many observantly snarky quips as he can—you can sense the film’s felt angst to acknowledge that Black people have been doing this since day one. In that sense, it’s more a film about the amalgam of pop detritus accumulating around Gay the Concept than it is a film about two gay dudes trying to find a soulmate. But. . . I think it wants so very badly to be both.

No matter how many times you show your protagonist watching Hallmark movies—signaling to your audience with all the subtlety of an airhorn that we’re meant to read the gooey sentimental bits as self-consciously, self-parodyingly, post-ironically, blah-blah-blahily intentional—that doesn’t then legitimize or backdoor-deepen your saccharine moments. It doesn’t magically lend them any more emotional integrity. Just because you know you’re doing it, and know you shouldn’t be, and admit it all to us, doesn’t then mean you’re not, in fact, doing it.

Quite to the contrary, it makes me really sad that the two poles we’ve condemned our characters to ping-pong between are pithy, acerbic, cutesy-liberal catchphrase-coldness and #iwatchitironically #butnotreally #feels Hallmark sentimentality. There’s so little breathing room there to be human. This script felt like a clunky ice lake to me—chunks of frozen crust closing and opening chinks just wide enough for our two bros to every now and then snatch a breath of real human air, say a real thing or two, express a real feeling, before submerging again to swim in a kind of Buzzfeed up-to-dateness or misguided parody-but-kind-of-not-really effusive cliché.

A lot of isolated ideas and pop cultural references and historical tidbits and comedian-ready observations bob in these waters. It’s just that none of it makes this very hospitable, and all of it is guilty of a kind of cumulative regression to the mean—making this neither an especially incisive nor an extraordinarily heartfelt movie, despite glimmers of potential in both. It’s surgery with a butter knife; proposal with a Ring Pop.

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