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Heidy Lee / Gavel Media

Bros: An Overburdened Rom-Com

Here’s the thing to know about Bros: it’s funny. This might seem like a no-brainer, but among all the branding of the film as breaking glass ceilings, pushing beyond cultural barriers, signifying new dawns in Hollywood—it’s easy to lose track of the fact that Bros is, first and foremost, a romantic comedy out looking for laughs.

Almost from the very beginning, Bros has carried a lot of cultural and political baggage. That’s not surprising, given that it’s a rom-com centering on a gay couple produced by the major studio of Universal Pictures featuring a mostly LGBTQ+ cast. To a certain degree, such emphasis can even play to viewers as smart marketing. But when the political branding is so effective as to outweigh everything else about the movie in the minds of potential audience members, that becomes a problem and a recipe for flopping at the box office. Bros raked in around 4.8 million its opening weekend of September 30, a disappointing debut considering the film’s much higher budget. Movie co-star and writer Billy Eichner even took to social media in frustration, tweeting that “straight people, especially in certain parts of the country, just didn’t show up.” Eichner has deleted the tweet since, but the damage is arguably done. Bros, the culturally-momentous breakthrough, is cemented at the expense of Bros, the entertaining rom-com, and people already reluctant to see the film aren’t any more likely to change their minds now. 

All this controversy overshadows that Bros is actually a good movie. The film does what a romantic comedy is supposed to: alternately pluck your heartstrings and make you laugh. Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane play lead characters Bobby and Aaron, two cisgender gay white men who pride themselves on their emotional self-reliance and cynical outlook of romantic relationships, only to fall in love over the course of trying to be emotionally unavailable together. In terms of plot, the movie opts for staying true to time-tested rom-com tropes (initial dislike which gradually turns to affection; switch from hated career to childhood dream job; disaster with family; and of course, a third guy). This isn’t necessarily a weakness, though—after all, these storylines are classic for a reason and the rather cheesy ending is no less effective at evoking wistful smiles. In stark contrast, the movie’s sharp and at times self-deprecating humor is a refreshing breath of air. The dialogue runs fast and snappy, a challenge that the cast but especially Eichner handles more than admirably. Bobby’s defense of his emotional aloofness exemplifies this: “We’re horny and we’re selfish and we’re stupid. I don’t trust these people.” As does this exchange between two of Bobby’s friends: “Oh my God. Do you guys remember straight people?” “Yeah, they had a nice run.” Whenever Bobby texts with potential hookups on Grindr or drops references to pop culture (Schitt’s Creek and Hallmark movies take the brunt of it), the dialogue really shines.

Bobby, Aaron, and their budding romance are given a lot of time and consideration, but this, as a result, makes all the other characters in Bros as flat as paper cutouts. Bobby’s friends, coworkers, and Aaron’s family exist in a very cursory way at the fringes of the story, either pushing forward the plot or acting as soundboards for the lead characters to pour their hearts out to. Bobby’s friends and coworkers in particular feel composed of token characters aimed at emphasizing the film’s diversity but achieving little else. Their tokenism might be meant as a commentary on how minority characters more often check off a box than really represent a realistic perspective, but it makes for unsatisfying viewing all the same. 

Still, at the end of the day, the disappointing side characters and less-than-effective marketing do nothing to detract from the fact that Bros is a rock-solid rom-com. The poignantly humorous story of Bobby and Aaron will definitely delight viewers heading into the theater with an open mind, and might even pleasantly surprise those without.