I’ll never forget the moment I realized I was destined to be the butt of the joke. I was at home, sitting on my couch watching Glee. Despite the melodramatic plotlines, it spoke to my confused 13-year-old self who was only just beginning to understand what exactly being queer was. In the episode, the boyfriend of the main gay character briefly experiences attraction to the female lead. For a moment, he wonders if he could be bisexual. Our gay hero scoffs, “Bisexual is a term that gay guys in high school use when they wanna hold hands with girls and feel like a normal person for a change.” By the end of the episode, all is well as the boyfriend’s brief sexuality crisis is resolved with a kiss and a, “Yep, I’m gay. 100% gay. Thank you so much for clearing that up for me!”
Even on a show created and written by queer writers that helped pave the way for mainstream representation of LGBTQ characters, geared towards a teen audience no less, it seemed the only way to get the laugh was to punch down. The message was loud and clear: “This isn’t for you. Can’t you just take a joke? It’s not that serious, and you’re lucky to be here at all.” In the years since (and frankly before then) there have been excellent films and TV shows by queer creators that have helped ease that hurt. But there has never been a mainstream, wide release, major studio project that unapologetically put inclusive queer humor front and center.
Bros, happily, changes everything. A hilarious, sincere, and ultimately moving exploration of what it is to be queer and in love in the age of Grindr, Bros is always laughing with its queer audience, not at it. Instead of the same tired jokes and tropes, writers Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller choose to lovingly send up queer culture without explaining or apologizing to its straight audience. In fact, it’s so unapologetically queer that it reverses the typical cultural messaging: straight people are welcome here if they can keep up, but this is our party. There’s no coming out storyline or violent homophobia, no tragic endings or sanitized sexuality. It’s just two lonely people getting over their respective hang-ups together while having a lot of queer sex (seriously, a lot).
The plot itself is the stuff of every romantic comedy ever made. Eichner’s Bobby is tightly wound from a lifetime of other people telling him to be a little less himself (code for: less gay). He’s defensive, wanting to stay one step ahead of potential hurt by never letting himself be vulnerable. His guard starts to come down around gym bro Aaron (a pitch perfect Luke McFarlane, drawing on his years of Hallmark movie experience), who has difficulty with emotional availability and his performative, heteronormative outlook on life. Aaron and Bobby are instantly intrigued by each other, but their insecurities often clash with disastrous results. Will these two “bros” be able to find a way towards love together?
The entire cast of Bros is great, with every person getting moments in the spotlight. It’s clear Eichner and Stoller wanted to showcase queer actors who would normally be relegated to supporting roles in a studio film like this. Bobby’s colleagues at his museum of LGBTQ+ history steal every scene they appear in, especially Eve Lindley and Miss Lawrence. The creative team deserves a huge amount of credit for managing to cover so many aspects of the queer experience by fleshing out these characters and giving their actors a chance to shine. Of course, no two-hour film could possibly delve into every nuance in the LGBTQ+ community, but damn if Eichner and Stoller don’t try.
McFarlane instantly shreds whatever preconceived notions exist about his acting abilities, giving Aaron a depth and vibrancy that makes it obvious why Bobby is so interested. He’s game for physical comedy and dramatic speeches, and Bros will hopefully open doors for him all over Hollywood so he can become the movie star he should have been ten years ago. Anyone who has seen Eichner’s work in Difficult People or his hit series Billy on the Street knows that he can whip out biting one-liners with ease. The greatest thing about seeing Bros with a multigenerational audience whose identities spanned the rainbow was hearing the guffaws of laughter as joke after joke landed. But what was surprising about the film was just how raw it was. One particular monologue of Bobby opening up to Aaron was beautifully performed by Eichner, so much so that the chuckles were replaced by sniffles and even some outright sobs.
It became clear that this was the first time most people in the audience had ever been able to go to a movie theater and watch a good old fashioned romcom without waiting for the other shoe to drop. There was a collective tension as Bros started, with everyone clearly thinking the same thing in each scene: is this going to be the part where everyone laughs at my identity? That tension melted away as the trust in Eichner grew, and by the end, the queer joy was infectious even as the more emotional beats sunk in.
The difficulty for Bros, as it is for any film that is the “first” for a marginalized identity, is overcoming the often insurmountable pressure placed on it. The prevailing thought is that it can’t just be a good movie, it has to be a great one, or they’ll never let us make one again! On top of that, it needs to make so much money that no one can argue it isn’t good business. In fact, the audience members I talked to expressed that they came to the screening to help ensure the film’s success, with several mentioning that they already had tickets to see it again or that they had become walking Bros ambassadors to get their straight friends to see it too.
Bros is fantastic by any standard, a hilarious night at the movies no matter your sexuality that has a deeper message to share if people are willing to listen. It deserves to be seen and enjoyed by a wide audience. I certainly don’t know if Bros is going to be a box office hit (though it deserves to be, and Universal has put a lot of effort into promoting it). But I do know that if 13-year-old me had snuck into this movie, she would have felt less alone. And maybe, finally, she would have felt like she was in on the joke.
Bros is in theaters everywhere tomorrow. For showtimes and tickets, head over to the official website.