Some gay guys are assholes, and that’s okay. This thesis is one of the many reasons why I love Nick Stoller’s Bros, a queer romantic comedy that burns down the dated genre and plants seeds for its rebirth. Not only is Bros one of the funniest films of the year, but it’s one of the best.
Billy Eichner’s Bobby Leiber is unlucky in love but successful in business. He hosts a podcast called “The 11th Brick at Stonewall” that acknowledges how Black trans women fronted the Gay Liberation Movement in the late 1960s, and he’s just a loud cis, white guy. He tried writing books for kids about prominent gay figures, but it seems no one wanted to read books with colorful cartoons of Martina Navratilova.
Any time Bobby hooks up with a guy, he knows that it won’t lead to a relationship. Since most single gay men use the apps to find playtime, we see Bobby’s frustrations in the hollow conversations that lead to routine hookups. It’s not a dance as much as an outlined, informal competition to have an orgasm first. When Bobby meets Aaron (the hunky Luke MacFarlane), he is both eager to hook up with him as much as he is to spar with him intellectually. Despite his intelligence, Bobby is paranoid that Aaron isn’t as physically attracted to him as he is to Aaron. Can two commitment-phobes find love? Or, at least, enjoy trips to P-Town and the possibility of inviting a third over with enough sense to take care of both their heads and their hearts?
Eichner tears through this film, and it’s amazing to see him play such a smart, fiercely intelligent character. As a short, queer curmudgeon myself, I always connected with his characters whether they are Billy from Difficult People or Billy On the Street (name a woman!). MacFarlane is sweet as a character who knows he is unhappy in his personal life but needs a nudge in the right direction (when I saw Bros at TIFF, MacFarlane received the biggest applause when the cast was introduced after the screening). Bros boasts a fantastically funny cast including TS Madison, Jim Rash, Eve Lindley, Guillermo Diaz, and Bowen Yang. Debra Messing pops up in a self-skewering cameo. A song towards the end of the film already has me prepping questions for interviews with Eichner and composer Marc Shaiman.
Much like Joel Kim Booster’s Fire Island (this would make one hell of a double feature), Bros points out that gay men are not an accessory or a fad or something to be looked at with prying eyes. Bobby tells a story early on in the film where a meeting with a film executive goes south when Bobby dashes the hope of having a “nice gay romantic comedy that a straight guy can enjoy with his girlfriend.” Bobby points out that “love is love” is, horror of horrors, the way that straight people understood that gay men were real people with real issues at stake.
What impressed me most about Bros wasn’t just that it was aggressively funny and smart, but that it has a real plea to its audience to understand its queer history. Yes, there are jabs at Hallmark Christmas movies and a fantastic nod to 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, but Eichner and Stoller (who wrote the screenplay together) do not waste a moment of their script to teach a valuable lesson that queer people cannot wait for permission from their straight counterparts in order to take up space. Bros has Grindr gags and threesome jokes aplenty, but teaching young queer people that they must make space for themselves because no one else will is valuable and vital in such volatile times.
Bros opens in theaters on September 30.