“If under all that strength and confidence you don’t think you are loveable, I am proof that you’re wrong.” This line from Universal Studios recent release “Bros” represents the major struggle of self love and acceptance explored throughout it. The film is a touching, hilarious, sexy, deeply sweet, radical, and historic film that should be seen by all people of all sexualities.
As the first queer rom-com to ever be released by a major studio, the film stars Billy Eichner as Bobby Lieber; a neurotic, argumentative, 40-year-old who rejects romantic relationships and connection. He hosts a successful podcast where he gives his opinion on queer topics and current events. His love life consists solely of dating app hookups and work. This changes when he meets hot, sweet, “gay Tom Brady” lawyer Aaron, played by Luke Macfarlane, who hates his job and is similarly emotionally detached. Over the course of the movie, the two explore vulnerability, connection, and commitment.
Bobby’s strong personality might initially make him come off as unlikeable to some viewers, especially those unfamiliar with the hard-shell coping mechanism often used by wounded queer people. Bobby shares his opinion loudly and projects intense confidence because he wants to avoid pain and, as his good friend tells him, “you don’t want to admit your hurt because that means you’re weak and that’s vulnerable.” I found Bobby’s character nuanced from the beginning, and felt that his strong presentation to the world showed many important details about his character which led the viewer to be interested in why he acts this way.
As the film continues we learn the reasons for this. In a scene where both Eichner and Macfarlane’s acting skills shine through, Bobby goes on an extended monologue where he tells Aaron about the personality he has created, saying, “confidence is a choice you make, usually born out of necessity.” The necessity is the struggle of being queer in this world which leads him to feel that “nothing’s easy. I have to take care of myself.” In his acting at this moment Eichner finds truth in what his character is communicating and feeling, and in turn delivers a moving performance. Throughout the long scene in which Mcfarlane has few lines, his facial expressions and reactions are well done and we learn more about his character though he does not speak.
The film uses the general rom-com formula but rises above other movies in the genre with its powerful comments on culture, impressive acting performances, and radical queer content. In one scene, the film addresses a very important current issue when Bobby confronts Aaron’s mother, a second grade teacher, about why she does not teach her students any queer content. The heated conversation leaves a powerful message about the importance of educating children on queerness from an early age because, as the mother later says to Bobby, “it’s their history too.” One of the most moving parts in the film is a scene where Aaron is alone in a queer history museum exhibit created by Bobby. Close-ups of Aaron’s face are interspersed with the faces of queer people from the past. It’s a powerful moment where we see that Aaron, a wealthy, cis, straight passing gay man, is just as much a part of the queer community as any other queer person. It also makes the comment that people like him, who often look down on femme, trans, and BIPOC queer people, owe their ablility to live their current lifestyles to the years of fighting and activism by the very people they scorn.
I saw the film twice; once with one of my queer moms and once with a self-identified heterosexual teenage boy who wishes to remain anonymous; we will call him Chad. All of the queer people I knew who had watched the film enjoyed it and I was curious to get the opinion of a member of the group most loudly hating on the movie.
“I thought it was really good,” said Chad. “I thought it was really funny and had like, a good message.” When I asked if he thought he could watch it with his straight-boy friends, he said, “I don’t think I could watch it with them while I was there, I feel like they’ll be pretty awkward but I feel like they would like it if they watched it with their family or something.” When asked what his favorite part was, he struggled to choose only one part: “the ending was pretty good and like everything near the ending…the funny parts…that’s kind of a whole lot.”
While the film received overall positive reviews from critics, including an 88% from Rotten Tomatoes, it struggled at the box office. In its opening weekend, it made only $4.8 million in ticket sales, significantly less than its projected 8-10 million, leaving many asking, why? In my opinion, this viewer review from IMDb sums it up, “I’ve got a great idea for the worst movie of all time. Let’s make a rom com with gay dudes. That way no one will relate to our movie or want to see it.” Dominant heterosexual American society remains deeply anti-queer and in my opinion, this film was simply too radical to succeed. Another possibility is that the film does not cater to straight people, and even queer allies feel, as Bobby’s supportive dad says, “not everyone wants to hear all this gay stuff.” Or perhaps, as Bobby says about the success of “sad gay cowboy played by a straight actor who wins an Oscar” genre, “straight people like to see us miserable,” however, this film is anything but miserable.
While most press coverage the film has received revolves around its disappointing box office performance, I chose not to focus on that in my review but instead on the celebration of the craft of filmmaking, acting, and queer love which is “Bros.” If you have the opportunity to see the film, I highly recommend you do, especially if you identify as straight. “Bros” is currently playing in theatres and will be available on streaming services soon.