There’s something pleasantly nostalgic about Bros. That may seem like a strange comment to make about the apparent novelty of a gay romantic comedy that widely released in theaters, but while it certainly leans into being a movie by and for gay audiences, it’s also a film that belongs to a tradition of studio filmmaking we don’t see much anymore. Co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller and co-writer Billy Eichner have set out to not just be an overdue “first,” but to be an established event in the cinematic canon of its genre, right up there with the likes of You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally. Only time will tell whether this film retains the staying power of those classics, but it’s a whip-smart, riotously funny attempt that certainly leaves a lasting impression.
Bobby (Billy Eichner) is a neurotic podcast host, heading the board of a soon-to-open LGBTQ+ history museum in New York. A self-admitted loner, he hooks up with guys on awkward Tinder dates but claims to be largely content as a guy who doesn’t get into relationships—especially not with meat-headed jocks. Enter Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), an apparent meat-headed jock whom Bobby meets at a club one night and surprisingly finds immediate chemistry with. Neither man particularly wants a romantic commitment in their lives, but after repeatedly being drawn to one another, they gradually break down each other’s barriers, reluctantly but inevitably becoming more vulnerable in the process.
Of course, the most important part of any romantic comedy is the chemistry between the leading characters, and Eichner and Macfarlane fit naturally in their roles, and eventually, with each other. Bobby and Aaron’s personalities become successful foils for one another, as Bobby’s out and loud queerness boosts Aaron’s confidence to defy a straight-passing pursuit of normalcy, while Aaron’s casualness forces Bobby to consider the idea that being lonely isn’t a sign of intellectual or philosophical superiority. These two very different guys develop a connection that feels completely at ease, even when they themselves are uneasy, depicting a believable and quite charming relationship that many romantic comedies struggle to achieve—a feat that’s even more impressive given how much additional sociopolitical territory Bros has to cover.
And Bros isn’t content to just be about a couple of guys falling in love. For a film where the leads are cisgender gay white men, it does a remarkable job exploring the dimensionality of the queer experience, and acknowledging that the LGBTQ+ community is a panoply of differing perspectives, priorities, and relationships. Sure, this is presented largely through comedy, with the identity-diverse members of the museum board acting as a perpetually sniping microcosm of intra-community schisms, but there’s also a grounded understanding that these disputes are founded on love, with an explicit acknowledgment that love doesn’t need to come in any one heteronormative form or exist for a purely romantic function.
But that depth in no way diminishes how the film is extremely, unrelentingly funny. Without alienating allies (and in fact providing them with quite a cultural and attitudinal compass), this is a film that was written with a queer audience in mind, and the jokes are largely based on queer experience. The passive awkwardness of Tinder hookups, the perpetual bisexual need to be acknowledged, the fumbling bizarreness of initial sexual connection, the uncomfortable necessity of interacting with straight family, the pedestals on which gay pop cultural idols are placed and, of course, the exploitative dredge of gay Hallmark movies are all fair game for the film’s incisive wit. In fact, jokes come so fast that Bros is a film that begs for repeat viewings, because gags are inevitably drowned out by fits of laughter at the joke that came before.
Debra Messing’s gut-busting scene notwithstanding, some of its shoehorned celebrity cameos fall a little flat. But even the film’s more intense moments all feel earned and necessary, occasionally they grind the pace of the film down—just long enough to momentarily lose its otherwise light tone. That’s become a common problem in Judd Apatow productions—though Bros is remarkably restrained by those standards—but it’s still a bummer when an otherwise great monologue goes on longer than necessary.
Minor faults notwithstanding, Bros is an excellent comedy, both as an expression of classical romance on screen, and one of a queerer, more diverse variety. Indeed, the film’s recurring refrain is that “love is not love,” refuting the notion that LGBTQ+ folks love in just the same way as straight people, even as it argues that the love that queer folks feel is no less valid or equal for its unique modes of expression. Whether it’s a monogamous relationship between two men, a coalition of various genders and sexualities, or a fast and loose network of sexual and emotional hookups, queer love is both silly and messy and weird, and banal and normal and beautiful. It’s an attitude Bros takes for granted and invites its audience to do the same, which in itself is a magnificent feat, worthy of thought between bouts of tearful laughter.