Near the start of “Bros,” a gay romantic comedy co-written and starring Billy Eichner, his character, Bobby Leiber, lays out the stakes: “Is love is love, is love? ” he asks in the incredulous bark that Eichner perfected on his hit show Billy on the Street. “No it is not.” Gay friendships are different, he explains. The same goes for sexual life and same-sex relationships.
Thus begins a film (opening on Friday) which seeks to capture the vagaries and absurdities of contemporary gay life. Implicit from this exercise is that real gay life is hotter and more sexualized than straight people might be comfortable with: they’re happy to congratulate each other on gay marriage, but when it comes to the sexual part of the same sex, “straight people”, as the film repeatedly calls them, would rather look the other way.
“Bros,” directed by Nicholas Stoller, whose other cinematic comedies include “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Neighbors,” won’t let them. There’s no tasteful fade-out here as two men kiss or above-the-shoulder shots as they undress. Are you an ally? asks the movie. So get ready for the full gay experience, even if that includes group sex.
To some extent, a big-budget Hollywood comedy about a gay man’s love life is long overdue. Since the 1990s, American cinema has included dozens of flamboyant, desexualized queer best friends; after delivering sassy phrases and offering a few choice morsels of wisdom, they tend to fade away. (No inner life for you, Rupert Everett in “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” or Stanley Tucci in “The Devil Wears Prada!”)
Meanwhile, overt gay romances tend to end in disaster: “Brokeback Mountain,” “A Single Man,” and “My Own Private Idaho” have Hollywood endings, but they aren’t happy.
In another respect, Hollywood has already caught up. There was 2016’s Oscar-winning Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” and 2018’s teen comedy-drama “Love, Simon,” and streaming is light years ahead of the mainstream. Shows as excellent as “Sex Education,” “Heartstopper,” and “Euphoria” handle queer romance in its various guises far more deftly than big-budget movies ever did.
So while “Bros” is definitely a first, its whole premise already feels a bit dated. At a time when people are increasingly comfortable existing somewhere between the male and female and gay and straight binary poles, a film that repeatedly makes statements about what “straight people think” threatens to be backslidden, even if he forges new ground.
Instead, it’s probably best to think of “Bros” in narrower terms: it may not be a movie that encapsulates the queer experience, but it describes very well what it’s like to be queer. be a white, cisgender, affluent, gay male age 36-45 in Chelsea and West Village in Manhattan.
Eichner’s Bobby is a successful podcast star who spends his free time hitting the gym, having dinner with friends, and endlessly scrolling through Grindr, the gay hookup app. Once in a while, he finds someone he can have unattached sex with.
His career is booming — he’s a board member of an up-and-coming LGBTQ+ history museum — and he’s more or less happy, in his ways.
The will or will begins when he meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), an incredibly buff real estate lawyer, predictably gruff and “straight” into a gay club. (Honestly, the least realistic part of this movie was their ability to have a cute conversation just feet from a subwoofer.)
Aaron, like Bobby, is not very committed. On a date, he invites Bobby to a foursome, rather than dealing with the potential intimacy of one-on-one sex. Soon however, Bobby’s wit and Aaron’s charm wear down each other’s defenses, and they embark on a cinematic romance.
There’s even a montage in which the seasons change as they do traditional cute couple things, like walking along Central Park holding hands, going to the movies, and trying an open relationship but deciding that it makes them jealous and accept not to do it anymore.
That’s more or less where the trouble begins – not just between Aaron and Bobby, but with the movie itself. What begins as a laugh-out-loud comedy that promises to showcase a different kind of more real gay love ends up as a super traditional rom-com dressed up with a tiny bit of non-traditional sex. Love is love is love, apparently. It just takes a little longer for the gays of “Bros” to get there.