Bros ★★

There is a sex scene in Bros that comes about a third into the film that I’ve been grappling with since I saw it. It’s the first sustained moment of sex between the two men alone. It is not erotic and the lack of eros bothered me. Yes, Bros is a comedy; the almost kneejerk undercutting of this moment of intimacy might be read as the film’s own willingness to laugh at itself – but in this film about this subject is that approach actually transgressive? As the audience around me roared with laughter as the sexual antics between Bobby and Aaron grew increasingly ridiculous, it felt like a way to make things more palatable. It’s easy to laugh at gay intimacy. In the hetero-patriarchal world of Hollywood media, the gay characters on the side have been used for comedy relief. When Aaron and Bobby embrace, in a vaguely kink adjacent encounter, and the camera draws back to position the act as one that is distinctly unsexy but very hilarious, I winced. Even the funniest romantic comedies find moments for the tender, and it feels telling that Bros never seems confident enough to be tender about sex, or to even convince us that this relationship can exist beyond the monogamous culture of straightness.

What’s more, the moments where the film allows Bobby to be critiqued feel scripted to allow him a level of autonomy that feels imbalanced in the relationship. Bobby is the authorial voice here, and the film suffers by never interrogation the worst of his impulses. In Bringing Up Baby, when Katharine Hepburn’s thoroughly exhausting (but wonderful) Susan Vance wears David Huxley down into something resembling love, the film is happy to laugh at her. Her strident exhausting nature is as much fodder for critique and laughter as is David’s own reservedness. Bringing Up Baby charms us to her side, it doesn’t force us to see things through her perspective. She is exhausting. Bros does not feel as equally yoked, its viewpoint is too shorn to Bobby and without that the lightness (and litheness) of touch to really be charmed by this dissipates.   

The film itself cannot step back far enough from Bobby’s perspective to interrogate those feelings of exhaustion he wears. It’s hard for such a character to stir feelings of fidelity, romance or even passion. In a word, he is exhausting. Even exhausting people deserve to be loved, though. Some of the best romantic heroes (and heroines) of Hollywood’s heyday were exhausting. Then the films would grapple with them, give them a character foil by way of romantic partner ready to spar with them. But in Bros that dynamic is absent. Eichner shouts, McFarlane acquiesces. It is not the stuff that movie magic is made of. But it is also not the stuff that “realism” is made of, if it’s trying to speak to the zeitgeist. 

Bros is the first of its kind (or so Eichner insists in every press appearance), and there are likely to be many pieces announcing all the queer first that it scales so well. But even in its dogged devotion to being first, that its memory of queer films is relegated to constant jokes about Brokeback Mountain and The Power of the Dog feels equally myopic. There is so much more to queer history than low hanging fruit of Oscar winning films about queer by straight filmmakers and actors. But the chip on its shoulder becomes the shape of its entire approach to itself, and so the romantic comedy is only a sleight-of-hand for a sermon. The words are there, and the feelings are valid. But where’s the romance? Where’s the humour? Where’s the tenderness? While Bros luxuriates in being the first of its kind, maybe the second-of-its-kind that comes after will be better.


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