Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Written by Patrick Hao
Billy Eichner’s comic persona that launched him to the mainstream was of a confrontational lover of Hollywood and pop culture, who was not afraid to take a piss at the hypocrisy of the whole institution because he loved it so much. So it is ironic that Eichner’s debut as a lead actor and writer of a mainstream Hollywood rom-com is exactly the type of work that Eichner’s comic personality would ruthlessly make fun of. “Bros” can be best described as a missed opportunity – with its own sense of self-importance deflating all the elements that were making it an impactful romantic comedy in the first place.
Eichner plays Bobby Leiber, a caustic New Yorker who hosts a queer history podcast, which is really just an excuse for Eichner to go on one of his trademark rants. Along with the podcast, he is also in the position of a board member of the opening of New York’s first LGBTQ+ history museum. The Board is filled with the spectrum of sexual identities, which unfortunately feels like more of a springboard for jokes about each character than an actual meaningful characterization.
Like most of the great rom-coms, Leiber has hard luck finding love, creating a callous exterior that self-perpetuates his loneliness. Once again, this allows Eichner to go on his tangents about the futility of Grinder and the gay dating scene in New York City. This changes when he falls for Aaron (Luke McFarland), a gay man who would rather watch football with the boys than watch “Yentl.” Both are emotionally unavailable, which for Aaron is due in part to him not yet reconciling his sexuality with external factors. And the romance between the two is tender and works for the most part. A lot of that is due to a breakthrough performance from Luke McFarland whose earnest puppy-dog eyes make him an appealing foil to Eichner’s perpetual state of irony.
When “Bros” embraces the rom-com tropes it functions well. Stoller actually has an eye for romantic comedies, and the film does not play off as a disposable Netflix original. Rather, there are genuine locations in New York City and an excursion to Provincetown that is to die for. The autumn foliage and winter sheen are reminiscent of the rom-coms of Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron.
Yet, the film feels the need to impart its importance to the audience. It is a big deal that this is the first mainstream LGBTQ+ rom-com that plays to all the tropes. But, for a film that has characters struggling with the idea of profiting from queer oppression, it seems perfectly happy to profit from being the first of its kind. The film’s loving portrayal of Provincetown proves to be far more impactful than its decision to lecture on the history of Stonewall.
“Bros” is clearly made with a lot of love, but feels overburdened by discourse culture. At its best, the film is a sweet romantic comedy about two commitment-phobic people in a film that shows that the queer community is not a monolith. At its worst, the film is trying too hard to be the first of its kind without trying to be the best of its kind. Eichner is writing as if this will be the only opportunity he or a member of the LGBTQ+ community would be able to write a mainstream rom-com. It is so jam-packed with ideas and self-importance that it often forgets to just be a movie. “Bros” is a call to action first and a rom-com second. And for that, I can’t help but think that Eichner’s characters on “Billy on the Street” or “Difficult People” would hate this movie.