Jammed with quotable one-liners — “You’re like a grown-up gay Boy Scout and I’m like whatever happened to Evan Hansen” — the new romantic comedy Bros is happily and certifiably queer, and as a major studio release, now playing at multiplexes all across America. But will it still be playing there a week from now? Time and box-office will tell, but here’s hoping moviegoers in cities big and small show up on date night to cheer for Bobby (Billy Eichner) and Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), two Manhattan men who meet, create sparks, and proceed to do their best not to fall in love.
Trying hard not to fall in love is a gay guy thing, and Bobby, a raucously caustic (some would say bitter) podcaster who celebrates queer history, and Aaron, a quiet (some would say dull) estate planner, have it down pat. After attending a dinner where all his friends are in couples or throuples, Bobby goes to a club party for a new app called Zellweger, which is dedicated to men who’d rather talk about actresses than have sex. There, while nursing his drink like it’s a sippy cup, Bobby locks eyes with Aaron, who’s on the dance floor, shirtless, crazy handsome, and soon standing awkwardly by his side. Bobby, ever smooth, says, “I hear you’re boring.”
Right from the start, director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Eichner, who wrote the screenplay together, zero in on the ease with which men dating men invent their own forms of etiquette. After finally conversing properly at the club, Aaron has to abandon Bobby because he already has hookup plans. Weeks later, Bobby joins Aaron in a three-way with another couple but in the midst of it all wants to go home early, a comic setup that would never have happened in the movie universe of Harry meeting Sally. That quickly glimpsed four-way is about as ribald as Bros gets, although the first love scene between Bobby and Aaron might send some audience members to Google with the question: what are “poppers”?
As the new couple sidestep their way into a relationship, Bobby prepares for the opening of the LGBTQ+ museum he’s curating, an evening which allows Eichner to celebrate heroes such as activist icon Marsha P. Johnson, and wouldn’t it be grand if audiences Googled her, too? The supporting cast, highlighted by the wittily combative museum board, is beautifully and fully inclusive, while many of the straight characters are played by out queer actors, including, in a fine turn that grounds the third act, Jai Rodriguez as Aaron’s bro-tastic brother.
Expanding on his manic “Billy on the Streets” persona, Eichner subtly reveals the vulnerable man behind Bobby’s furious impatience with those who don’t take seriously all that he takes seriously (it’s a big list). He’s dumbstruck that Aaron finds him attractive. It takes him the whole movie to believe it. Macfarlane presents Aaron as a man comfortable with comfort who’s suddenly capsized by Bobby’s humor and intensity. He’s dumbstruck too and scared he won’t be able to keep up.
Despite a steady gig this past decade as a Hallmark movie heartthrob, this is the first real role Macfarlane has had since his fine work in the early 2000s series Brothers & Sisters (the one with Sally Field) and he brings a quiet tenderness to it that Bobby responds to, and moviegoers likely will as well. Aaron beaming with happiness is irresistible.
There are sharp satirical jabs at Hallmark style Christmas movies (listen for the movie titles), but there’s this, too: during a short love scene late in the film, Bobby and Aaron switch roles, sexually. Some in the audience may titter, or not quite absorb what’s happening, but the scene might just stop the hearts of gay men in the audience. It did mine. For suddenly, on a very big AMC screen, two men were having the intimate bedroom conversation many of us have had, the one where the connection is so intense, and the feeling so strong that it’s suddenly no longer important who came into the relationship with “top” or “bottom” labels. One man asks the other to change the sexual template, a moment American movies rarely show. It’s a radical act. Bobby and Aaron both look surprised, as we always are by love. Bros is wonderfully funny, and quietly subversive. Take your parents.
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