Universal Pictures is the first major Hollywood studio to distribute a gay rom-com featuring an all-LGBTQ cast with Brothers, which took a long time to come. Co-writer and lead actor Billy Eichner’s passion for this feature film shines through every frame, and the finished product is a hard-hitting romantic comedy that appeals to audiences. Brothers has a lot of weight on his shoulders for what he stands for. It buckles a little under that pressure, but it’s useful as an entertaining rom-com that generates both sentimentality and plenty of raunchy laughs.
‘Bros’ is a romantic comedy between two men with commitment issues
Bobby Leiber (Eichner) is a gay man in his forties who has never had a real relationship, but he’s fine with it. After all, he has a successful podcast where he explains what it’s like to live the life of a single gay man in New York City, and he works at the country’s first LGBTQ museum of this size. He locks eyes with a muscular man named Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane) at a party, where their electrical chemistry quickly switches between positive and negative.
Brothers finds Bobby and Aaron developing feelings for each other, even though their commitment issues cause them to avoid relationships. Nonetheless, their feelings for each other continue to grow and force them to confront their greatest insecurities.
A gay romantic comedy about self-confidence
Brothers immerses the audience in the heart of gay and single life in a big city. Screenwriters Eichner and Nicholas Stoller tackle awkward Grindr hookups and brief interactions in dark clubs, not ruling out the pursuit of taking perfect nude photos. Bobby’s frustrations with dating and hookup culture continue to mount, as he classifies gay men into two categories – the smart ones and the dumb ones. He usually places men in this binary by their appearances, which is why he initially places Aaron in the latter.
However, Bobby couldn’t have been more wrong. Aaron looks like an overconfident male gym rat, but he struggles with his own insecurities. Brothers is largely a dialogue about where trust comes from and how we release it, even in some of the most critical social and professional spaces. It’s an important message about accepting one’s self-esteem and individualistic style of confidence that can only come from within, far too important a message in a hierarchical community based on physical appearance.
Eichner and Stoller’s screenplay infuses romance and self-worth with its dialogue highlighting the importance of LGBTQ history. Bobby jokes that the world doesn’t know who threw the first brick during the Stonewall Riots, but it’s likely the 11th brick was thrown by a cisgender gay man. Much of the humor comes from taking jabs at community history that society is quick to erase, as well as fights between different letters of the LGBTQ alphabet. There’s a lot of material here that lands, but he’s often caught making the very mistakes he accuses others of.
‘Bros’ serves the genre well, but not LGBTQ history
Brothers boasts an impressive supporting cast full of thrilling cameos. It’s wonderfully diverse, though it locks so many characters into supporting roles that most of them don’t get much of a chance to shine. Nonetheless, Stoller’s direction and the screenplay he co-wrote with Eichner are filled with laughs. There are a few good zingers, most of which come from Bobby. However, many of them require going through a fair amount of grueling buildup.
The rom-com genre relies heavily on the ability of the protagonists to sell their romance to the audience. Eichner and Macfarlane do it with vigor, pushing their electric chemistry. However, Eichner’s quick dialogue delivery is often gritty, resulting in this incredibly whiny character that becomes unbearable. However, Eichner appropriately channels that energy in a monologue about trust that is both incredibly moving and emotionally rich. It’s just a shame that this authenticity isn’t found elsewhere in his performance. Meanwhile, Macfarlane is still charming and provides some much-needed calm to Eichner.
Brothers deserves to be celebrated for not holding back its sexuality more than other R-rated comedies produced by Judd Apatow. He is sex positive in his displays of consensual fetishes surrounding feet, wrestling, slaps and poppers, rather casually incorporating them. Hollywood often erases and demonizes such sex acts between same-sex couples, but Stoller’s management embraces them.
Eichner’s Bobby rightly shames the marketing of gay storytelling to straight audiences, but Brothers is not innocent of it. This puts gay culture in an accessible package that all audiences can connect to. There’s a clear goal to teach viewers a thing or two about LGBTQ history, but it only hits on the most obvious fruits, all of which would be part of your first day in Queer History 101. It’s like it does shaming others for not embracing their story, he never really shows a solid understanding of the subject itself.
Brothers mocks the privilege of white, cis, conventionally attractive gay men. Aside from a few jokes at Bobby’s expense, the film often casts him as low on the totem of the gay dating scene compared to Aaron. However, Bobby is a community leader with a successful podcast for which he is frequently approached. Eichner and Stoller’s writings suggest that Bobby and Aaron are total opposites, an unconventional couple, but that’s far from the truth.
Brothers is an important and elevated romantic comedy, but it does not deliver on its promises. The jokes are cohesive and land often, while the romance is charming, albeit less central than the comedy. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel that is the rom-com genre, but it really isn’t necessary. However, Brothers could use a tighter focus, a less abrasive main character, and ways to safeguard its stance on the very story it stands for.
Brothers taps into theaters on September 30.
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