Bros ★½

Uh, not good? Barely "rom", not terribly "com", at least it's gay I guess.

If you open the Wikipedia article for Bros, you will learn that it is "one of the first gay romantic comedies by a major studio", and a lot of its runtime is devoted to unsubtly interrogating what this piece of trivia means. The subplot of Bobby opening the first national LGBTQ+ history museum seems like a pretty transparent representation of the project itself, and in a presumably autobiographical monologue (I have no idea who Billy Eichner is), Bobby talks about his difficulties in making art as a gay man interested in covering queer subject matter. There's a brief scene where he pitches a gay romcom to a studio executive and another where the characters go see a movie and talk about it.

The problem is that the film never really articulates its concerns about the present and future of gay cinema into any kind of meaningful point. The meta stuff about gay movies doesn't lead into any sort of payoff. The museum plotline (that asks a lot of reasonable questions about presenting queerness in the mainstream!) ends with a punchline – and while it can at least state the obvious, that queer history matters, it's a metaphor. Bros isn't a museum; it's a movie.

Perhaps the best example of the film's inability to contextualize itself is the way it talks about diversity. In case you couldn't tell by the fact that Bobby receives the award for "Best Cis Male Gay Man" at the start, Bros is kind of ashamed of being about two kind of bland white guys when it's thematically reaching towards grand statements about queerness. Bobby's coworkers form a more diverse group of side characters, but they remain caricatures with no interiority or agency – the kind of comic queer characters who like to state their identities out loud and mostly function as vehicles for jokes based around them.

It's pretty baffling. For a movie so outwardly concerned about falling into monolithic depictions of queerness, Bros kind of sucks at addressing those concerns or explaining why they matter. The confused final note about how his diverse co-workers really inspired Bobby or taught him a lesson or something just sounds mean in how vague it is.

Meanwhile, the movie's examination of the relationship cis men have with gender feels kind of lacking. The other guy has a character arc about his dream of making chocolates, but it's so thinly connected to the drama that is doesn't really register as serious examination of gender. The kind of generic gay guys the leads are can have feelings about and attitudes towards gender much more complex, interesting, and fulfilling than what is presented here; a strange miss for a movie so invested in the idea of diversity.

Honestly, maybe the issue is that the romcom plot and the museum plot just don't fit together. They're too different in their approach towards queerness and Bobby as a character, and the individual scenes where they briefly feel like they work have nothing to do with the other plotline.

Also, though its issues run deeper, the movie just isn't very good on the level of writing and direction. The museum stuff is gracefully exposited via the main character saying "as you know" and then explaining it to his co-workers. The protagonist having a podcast is introduced at the start and looks like a framing device the movie is going to get more mileage out of, but then it's dropped and never used again. Tone is all over the place. Apart from tired observations about dating apps, most of the jokes are bland pop culture references. And the score sounds like what you'd find if you Googled "FREE ROMCOM BACKGROUND MUSIC (NO ROYALTIES)".

A particularly strange creative choice Bros makes is framing every sex scene so heavily through comedy. Sex can be funny without feeling like a joke, but this is not an emotional register the movie manages to hit, and you really feel it – the lack of a straightforwardly emotional, erotic sex scene is a baffling omission. Maybe that's one reason you never really believe in the core relationship, especially when both dudes are people who consider sex to be an important part of their lives. It's even weirder when Bobby has an entire speech about how validated he felt when seeing an erotic queer play as a teen.

The technical flaws are not overwhelming, but they become catastrophic in the context of the movie's thematic emptiness, when it's so desperate to be something it isn't. Bros is fixated on the idea that success in the Hollywood studio system is the only way queer art can "make it". It talks about gay cinema only through the lenses of mainstream appeal and awards recognition. It flaunts its budget by staging an elaborate Pride parade for a very brief scene and getting cameos from Ben Stiller and Debra Messing. Its idea of diversity is filling the cast with queer celebrities and influencers.

But all of this feels empty when it has nothing to offer as a romcom. Why watch Bros when you can instead watch Mascarpone (2021), which does an admirable job at updating the genre towards the contemporary gay perspective to love, sex, and romance, or Just Friends (2018), diverse in a more natural and meaningful way? Well, maybe my perspective on this is limited, living in a country where foreign queer movies already get wide distribution deals (Bros was even released here on the very same day as Peter von Kant, which incidentally also sucks) and where domestic cinema is already getting a lot better at telling compelling queer stories.

I guess those movies don't have a Ben Stiller cameo. But is that really the zenith of queer cinema? It's hard to say what else it is that Bros finds so important and monumental about itself; it ends up feeling like an empty celebration of its own meaningless existence. "One of the first gay romantic comedies by a major studio" is not a selling point – you also have to make the movie good, or at least better than this.

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