The romcom is always is a wish-fulfilment genre, but very few have pushed the ‘bringing fantasy to life’ element as far as Bros. Here is a romcom that not only features an incredibly obvious self-insert lead character for its writer and star, but also gives this self-insert a story that gets to be capital-I Important, an importance that actually often gets in the way. Billie Eichner’s film – produced by romcom overlord Judd Apatow and directed by one of his regulars, Nicholas Stoller – is undoubtedly a step forward in mainstream Hollywood representation (the entire cast is LGBT+) but, in getting caught up in its moment in history, its rom and its com both feel pretty hollow.
Eichner plays Bobby, a successful and semi-famous gay podcaster in New York. Bobby has reached 40 as a proud singleton, happy with hookups but too attached to his freedom and self-reliance to ever go for a relationship. Like Eichner himself, Bobby’s complete unwillingness to ever tone himself down has gained him loyal fans and friends but also stymied some of his career avenues, so he’s both thrilled and stressed to be the face of a new museum celebrating Queer history. It’s a major responsibility that is clearly weighing on him, a difficulty only made worse by the arrival of the hunky Aaron (Luke Macfarlane).
A clever and funny lawyer, Aaron breaks through Bobby’s defenses, and it’s not long before a tentative romance has kicked off, one that subsequently follows a lot of the formulaic ups and downs that define most mainstream romcoms. Weirdly, though, Bros often keeps you at arm’s length from its emotional beats, Bobby’s hyper-guarded façade rubbing off on the story. Romcoms generally rely on a lot of earnestness, but it’s not really until the end that Bros lets its guard down for some honest-to-god feeling, which by then is a little too late.
On the com side of things, it’s just as hit and miss, though your mileage really will vary depending purely on your tolerance for Eichner’s particular brand of humour. It’s all very rant and reference based which, aside from some properly funny one-liners peppered throughout, left me cold. Essentially playing himself, Eichner’s performance is solid, though Macfarlane (a regular on the Hallmark channel, generally playing straight hunks in seasonally-themed romances) can seem a bit out of his depth. He’s often charming, but there’s a strain or tension to a few of his scenes that feels at odds with the film around him.
Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting cast are simply ciphers, which does somewhat detract from Bros’s revolutionary credentials; this may be the first all-Queer studio romcom, but 2 hours in the company of Billy Eichner actually feels pretty familiar by this point. If you’re already a fan of Eichner, there’s enough fun to be had here to keep you ticking along, but too much of Bros’s ambition is set on its place in external movie history rather than on its own qualities (the whole thing is shot like an episode of network TV, with underwhelming visuals throughout). It’s great that Bros has opened the door; let’s just hope that the next few films that come through it bring a few more tears and laughs.