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It's chock full of dream-come-true moments for Spidey fans, but its lack of substance reeks of a self-indulgence that is rare even in fan fiction
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“You’re like a grown-up gay Boy Scout, and I’m like whatever ends up happening to Evan Hansen.”
That’s what Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner) tells Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) on their first date in Bros. Dear Evan Hansen and I specifically refer to the musical show and not the movie, which was a major cultural phenomenon a few years back. Maybe the gag won’t live to feel timeless in even as short a period as five years, but it’s the perfect sales pitch for the movie if you want someone to believe in its potential as a rom-com. A very recognizable trait of a romcom is to introduce a romance between two seemingly incompatible people who weren’t even looking to fall in love with anyone, let alone each other. Think of 10 Things I Hate About You and how apparently incompatible the leads played by Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles were. The incompatibility I’m referring to doesn’t arise from them being polar opposites as people and is a result of them being too similar in their emotional unavailability. If you have seen Dear Evan Hansen or heard its songs, you will know Evan Hansen was emotionally unavailable and sealed off from the human world due to his mental illness and his abandonment issues from his dad leaving as a kid. And well, Boy Scouts aren’t exactly known for their emotional vulnerability. So if you are a hopeless romantic like me, I guess you’ll be dying to find out how their dynamic develops into a full-blown romantic relationship. And that should be reason enough to go watch Bros.
In some ways, Billy Eichner plays himself in the film. And if you aren’t a fan of him, watching Bros could get tedious. Except for the character development which, though somewhat rushed, is believable. Rushed character development is anyway a staple of romcoms. An example that comes to mind is (500) Days of Summer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom confronts his commitment issues and problems with the way he approaches romance only towards the very end of the film. Bobby Lieber from Bros, much like Tom from (500) Days of Summer, is cynical about love. The difference is that Bobby is seemingly comfortable with being single. Bros opens with the filming of a podcast episode hosted by Bobby. In the episode, he mentions the “romantic single life”, something I believe a lot of us single people like to believe in. It’s not a cynical look at romance, but a poetic perspective for being single, with solo walks around the city and a healthy amount of alone time whenever you aren’t being overworked at your job. But Bobby’s vision, of course, has cynicism in it, because not a little later he goes on to retort to a friend about not being in a relationship by saying “who’s so happy all the time?” As far as a rom-com protagonist goes, this is someone we want to root for because it’s clear he wants love but avoids it. You want him to eat his words through the run time of the film and fall for the other handsome lead.
Opposite Bobby is Aaron. He’s the ex-hockey player who does CrossFit and looks too handsome for his age. Luke Macfarlane is a Hallmark movie staple and it’s fun to watch him star in a big studio production of the kind of films that make up a major portion of his filmography. In Bros, his character Aaron is someone incapable of commitment not because he’s cynical like Bobby, but because he’s shy. When Bobby invites him up after their first informal date, yes it’s informal because they both make a point of the fact that it is indeed not a date since neither is in a place to be dating, Aaron says “If I go upstairs, it becomes like a whole thing.” And yet, he invites Bobby over to a couple’s place. He is supposed to be having group sex with the couple and wants Bobby to join them. So it’s not the having sex part that gives him the jitters, it’s the having sex with Bobby alone part. Commitment issues are relatable and I had a lot of fun watching these two characters constantly verbally confirming that they’re not dating while giving each other signals of wanting to be together in a relationship. And it makes for compelling romantic drama too, because you’re rooting for them to get together and what’s a rom-com without a romance you wish would flourish against all odds?
Now, Universal marketed Bros as a historic film because it’s the first major studio gay romcom to hit the theatres. I think that declaration had a lot of us sold on the film. One thing I specifically wanted from the film was a scene-by-scene remake of some of the classic formulaic romcoms which could send the message that even cis gay men can experience the exact same highs and lows as cishet people. Thankfully, screenwriter Billy Eichner called me on my bulls**t. In the scene where Bobby is filming his podcast episode, and this is in the trailer too, he recounts his experience of being hired to write a gay rom-com. He says the producer wanted him to write a gay romcom that a straight man would want to take his girlfriend to, a movie that showed how “straight and gay relationships are same” because “love is love is love.” Bobby quite angrily declares that such expectations are not okay. He says “Our relationships are different. Our sex lives are different.” This is a very important point because this is a problematic expectation that heterosexual people have. If gay romance is similar to their romance, they can feel like they’re part of the deal and not just allies who are supporting gay people from the sidelines. In other words, they want to be a part of a narrative they don’t belong in.
And the social reform dialogue or monologues don’t stop there. Bobby is very passionate about queer issues and his job is a direct expression of that. He is the executive director of the first national LGBTQ+ history museum! So he brings out the social justice warrior in him at almost the slightest provocation. Now Aaron says that getting angry is Bobby’s “brand” and honestly, that seems insulting. It’s probably an expression of the character’s internalized homophobia. But it’s difficult, as a queer person myself, to digest and reconcile that you’re being told that you’re too much and you don’t always have to flare up at misconceptions or possible injustice. I appreciate that Billy Eichner wrote Bobby to be such a confrontational character. He makes fun of a movie that is clearly a referential spoof of Brokeback Mountain by saying how it’s so inspiring to see a straight actor transform themselves into gay and sad characters and how his life has been entirely about ensuring Benedict Cumberbatch gets to cash in by playing Bobby’s role in a biopic. Bros also confronts Hollywood’s, especially straight Hollywood’s, trend of making tragedies about gay people. “Straight people love seeing us miserable”, says Bobby! I’m always there to cheer on someone who addresses the “bury your gays” trope.
There’s even dialogue about educating youngsters about queer history because as Bobby reveals to us early on in Bros, he had written a bunch of storybooks about famous queer icons, like tennis player Martina Navratilova and eventually, none of them had been bought. I will not give away all the issues that are talked about, but I will say I appreciate them being brought up even in a romantic comedy. Some viewers might think the subject matter is too heavy. But I was brought up in a heteronormative society being told about Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella as soon as I could understand stories. So I don’t think it’s unfair to always bring up the fact that none of the children’s literature I was exposed to, featured queer characters. Not everything about our lives may have to become about fighting queerphobia, but these conversations belong in every story because we’re all affected by some sort of discrimination since our society is heteronormative. That being said, Bros doesn’t get self-indulgent and preachy. Every argument seems sensible from Bobby’s point of view and so you won’t feel like you’re being lectured to. And it also educates viewers about queer history in a non-lecturing fashion through Bobby’s conversations. And Billy Eichner as a screenwriter has done a brilliant job of distancing Bros from Bobby’s intensity. Aaron is almost the polar opposite when it comes to flaunting his queerness and through him, the screenplay brings up questions and situations that make Bobby confront how much of his activism is genuine and how much of it is compensatory.
But as far as gay representation goes, Bros doesn’t just battle homophobia. It also depicts a healthy gay relationship and the awkwardness of Grindr hookups. There are also some references like Provincetown, which may seem niche. I myself didn’t know about “P-Town” till I watched the movie. No, I’m not doing your homework for you. You will Google it after seeing the film like almost all of us have had to do. There’s an unapologetic manner in which it goes about the development of the central romance. It’s not trying to live by heteronormative standards and that’s liberating to watch. This especially applies to the major sex scene in the film. Gay men often have a lot of repressed toxic masculinity. The physically timid Bobby is suddenly inspired to get into a brawl with Aaron after he finds the latter staring at a group of shirtless men playing football in the park. This unlocks their physical intimacy and I think this sex scene is among my top five favorite sex scenes in a romcom, if not across all genres. There’s physical showmanship, foot play, and… well how about you find out for yourself by watching Bros? And the post-coital interaction is heavenly as well. Firstly, you can see how their emotional intimacy is established through the way their conversational style evolves, and secondly, the embrace in which they end up is straight out of a single hopeless romantic’s daydream. Trust me when I say they have chemistry and that you’ll cry watching them fall in love and dance on the beach while the sun sets.
So yes, love is love is love sometimes. Because it’s the first meaningful sex that triggers emotional connection, which is a staple for heterosexual romances like Marley & Me. The wish to be intimate rises till the physical barrier gets overcome, only to instantly trigger the overcoming of the emotional one too. But the conversations about polygamy and the rift between the characters because of the varying degree of comfort they have with themselves aren’t textbook rom-com tropes. And so, again, I’m grateful Billy Eichner didn’t give me the homosexual rendition of You’ve Got Mail but instead gave me a new movie altogether which has the potential to become a sad day mood-lifter in the future. Oh, and it’s hilarious too! At one point Bobby is given the example of the current generation of queer people and told to take their example and become emotionally vulnerable and comfortable with his sexuality in all its aspects. He retorts by saying that that’s not fair because “We had AIDS and they had Glee.” There are snappy one-liner jokes peppered through the film to give you a fair dose of laughter. Aaron is a lawyer who specializes in wills but he had a very different dream job. He had abandoned it because in his own words that had “seemed kind of faggy”. There you go, one line that establishes he has internalized homophobia and makes you laugh! And my favorite one-liner is “Vulnerability is not a boner killer!” Find out the context, and I promise you, you will laugh harder than you just did.
The comedy isn’t just good jokes either. The supporting characters themselves introduce hilarious situations. Jim Rash plays a person in the museum director’s group and he keeps insisting that there be an exhibit or even a wing just about bisexuals because we always ignore the B in LGBT. He essentially highlights the issue of bi-erasure, but his intensity about it makes the thing a running gag that gets funnier with each scene. There’s also a plethora of funny cameos. Debra Messing has a really funny bit where Bobby suddenly opens up to her about his issues and she flares up. She says she isn’t her character and she is fed up with gay men venting about their issues to her for 25 years. “I am not my character. I am not every gay man’s best friend”, she declares in a huff and scolds Bobby. When his other friends show up at the scene, she asks a lesbian woman if she would want to dump all her emotional issues on Debra too. When the woman says no, Debra goes “Because lesbians have their shit together.” Maybe you’ll need knowledge of stereotypes to appreciate that joke, but it’s hilarious from where I’m sitting. A fan-favorite gay comedian shows up in the movie too. Hint: He isn’t Caucasian and he is a regular on SNL. He has been in another rom-com this year. Maybe that’s too many hints, but I got very excited to see him. He happens to mention wanting to see a shirtless Lil Nas X working out with pink dumbbells as an exhibit in the museum and that made me go “Yaasss, Queen!”
So it’s funny, it’s cute, it’s adorably romantic, and it’s confrontational about gay representation. I can’t think of a reason why that shouldn’t be reason enough to watch Bros. Unless of course, I consider the honestly off-putting attitude that Billy Eichner adopted while marketing the film. He seems to be patting himself on the back a lot with his tweet about how the audience had a great time at the screening he secretly attended. And worse, he almost seems smug about being the man behind this almost milestone moment of Bros being the first major studio gay rom-com. Then of course there’s his claim that you’re homophobic if you don’t watch the film in theaters. Firstly, it’s a romcom, a genre infamous for being unworthy of paying to see in the last two decades. Secondly, this is October, or Hoop-tober as many refer to it, the official spooky season when we go to theaters to have our spines chilled and our blood frozen, not necessarily to get our hearts warmed. And thirdly, even as a queer person, I might have been put off by the over-emphasis on the historic nature of the film. I’m lucky to not have been around for the marketing and just found out about it when it came to VOD. I know that makes my experience different. But I’m here to tell you that historic or not, it’s as good a rom-com as any. So don’t let Billy Eichner or the box office failure discourage you from watching it!
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