If you were a young gay growing up in the height of the 80s to 90s rom-com era of Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan you really grabbed onto their longing, their dilemma over what guy to date or not to date. You didn’t have that luxury, so you inserted yourself into that scenario (as we’ve done since the beginning of film), that fantasy, and understandably so. We’ve had several wonderful indie films about LGBTQ relationships, both comedic and dramatic, but it took until 2022 for a major studio say yes to queer love on a grand, mainstream scale and yes, pearl clutch, queer actors playing queer roles.
In the film, Eichner plays single, 40-year-old New Yorker Bobby Leiber, a slightly subdued version of himself but still with his trademark rapid fire wit and humor. For Bros, he’s not on the street but in the podcast booth, hosting a show called The 11th Brick, where he talks about queer history and presents it to us, the audience, as both a reminder to us LGBTQs and an introduction to the straights and allies watching. These lessons are peppered throughout the film and Eichner is very aware, and self-aware, of both the joy and responsibility of the task. “We know that a trans woman of color threw the first brick at Stonewall, but it was probably a cis white gay guy who threw the 11th brick,” he says, both giving foundational history and very cheekily poking fun at the disastrous 2015 Roland Emmerich film in which literally presents a cis white gay man throwing the first brick with icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera behind him.
On a typical night out at the club with Henry (the brilliant Guy Branum), they discuss a new gay dating app called Zellwegr, which is “just for gays who want to talk about actresses and go to bed.” When I tell you I’ve never felt so seen. Quickly their eyes are drawn to the dance floor to impossibly hot Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) who’s “hot, but boring” but whom Bobby locks eyes with and who returns the 100-yard stare. They introduce each other; Aaron is a probate lawyer who hates his job, Bobby, along with his podcasting career, is heading a committee overseeing the launch of the first-ever national LGBTQ museum. Their meet-cute, in classic romantic comedy style, is cut short when Bobby is just a bit too acerbic for Aaron, who has a three-way date with two cosplaying baseball meatheads anyway. What can you say? Bobby likes Mariah Carey, Aaron likes Garth Brooks. Let the gay hunger games begin.
Bobby and Aaron navigate their relationship both as opposites in type and personality but with the singular trait of not wanting to be in a relationship. Aaron just wants to fuck and keeps a bro-y exterior whether he’s in the office, (not) sharing a park blanket or even in bed. Bobby hasn’t ever had a long-term relationship and cynicism has been the main architect of that. Their sex is shrewdly portrayed as hot and funny. Poppers in a mainstream romance are introduced. Whoulda thunk it? But overnights start to turn into more, they visit Provincetown together in one last funding effort, giving us Tony-winning gay icon Harvey Fierstein as a frisky b&b owner and Saturday Night Live star Bowen Yang (from early summer’s other fantastic gay rom-com Fire Island) as an obscenely wealthy donor whose ideas for the museum include a roller coaster of gay trauma with Ronald Reagan (“shining city on a hill!”). Our romantic duo volley back and forth, breaking up and making up, making out with each other, making out with others (“Hi Steve” is imprinted on my brain) and attacking tropes with aplomb and with an understanding of their historical relevance. Both Eichner and Macfarlane are perfect here, with precise and vulnerable performances. Macfarlane is excellent at slowly peeling back his layers and Eichner gets a monologue on a beach that feels pulled from his own life which breaks down his character’s exterior, and truly, his own as well, that centers everything.
Cameos are abound in Bros, with another Broadway legend, Kristen Chenoweth making a funny Beach Blanket Babylon-esque appearance at an LGBTQ awards show that skewers awards shows in a way reminiscent of 1997’s In & Out. Props to cinematographer Brandon Trost (the Neighbors films) who balances these moments of visual satire with a gorgeous and sun-bathed New York that’s the stuff of deep romance and Stoller’s direction keeps things perfectly afloat.
The secondary plot of the LGBTQ museum running out of money and needing to secure funding just in time for the big finale opening night gives us uproarious performances from Jim Rash’s bisexual avenger Robert, Dot Marie Jones’ keep-everything-together lesbian Cherry, Miss Lawrence’s Black gender non-conforming “I hear you and I see you” Wanda, Ts Madison’s Black trans woman spitfire Angela and Eve Lindley as a Latina trans IG influencer Tamara. They constantly provide comedy and salty commentary as well as keep Bobby in check.
That’s not to say that all of Bros is comedy. There is an undercurrent of anger and sadness when Bobby tells his friend “We had AIDS, they had Glee.” Is it still a funny line? Absolutely. Both times I saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival the audience exploded in laughter. Some knowing and eager to taunt a show like Glee (the recent Lea Michelle of it all) and some, like me, allowing ourselves to find peace, solace, and even humor, in the darkest modern era of gay culture. It’s in the spaces in between where Eichner and Stoller’s script excels. They stick with the classic structure of the rom-com but color just outside the lines to make the universal very specific, giving us one of the best films of the year.
Queer actors also populate the film in ways both clever and necessary. Eichner and Stoller take quite a few potshots are not just LGBTQ programming for straight people that’s been capitalized on our growing popularity (the Hallmark satires are hilarious) but even ‘for us/by us’ shows like Schitt’s Creek (which takes a bit of a beating here) and the reboot of Queer Eye. Original Queer Eye star Jai Rodriguez plays straight as Aaron’s supportive brother in an overly macho sendup in quite a perfect flip of the coin of how often we see straight actors playing gay with the myopic lens of a few stereotypical traits and fantastically turns the tables on the “straight actors playing gay cowboys for Oscars” trope.
Bookending the summer which opened with Andrew Ahn’s deliriously funny Fire Island (love the competing east coast gay mecca movies) feels like a dream that I never thought I’d actually see, a gay crowdpleaser where the heroes don’t have to die at the end. Let’s keep it going.
Meanwhile, you can hit me up on Zellwegr at AlwaysTheHours2002.
Universal Pictures will release Bros only in theaters on September 30.