If you are a romantic comedy fan, you’ve definitely heard of Billy Eichner’s Bros (2022). This year, the movie was marketed as THE gay romantic comedy of all time.
Okay, I can’t actually prove that they said, “of all time,” but that’s what they meant. However, Bros isn’t the groundbreaking masterpiece they want you to believe it is. I’m sorry Billy, the truth hurts.
Bros claims that they are the first gay rom-com produced by a major Hollywood studio, Universal. And parts of that are true. They are the first gay love story produced by a major studio, but what does that really mean?
Major studios have survived for decades, and just like all bureaucracies, their systemic nature supports patriarchal norms. Luckily, technology forced a drastic shift in the entertainment industry. Back in the day, film actors and television actors never exchanged mediums, but that is no longer the case. So, the biggest difference is how much money can be allocated to marketing, and wonders can now be done online where big budgets aren’t a requirement. In short, major studios no longer hold the same gravitas as back in the day. Major studios helped fortify heteronormativity within films, and Bros attempts to counter this dominant narrative within the construct that built it.
Let’s continue the clarification. The word gay, while often referring to men, can be used for women as well. And, while Bros tells the love story of gay men, Happiest Season (2020), which came out two years prior, focuses on gay women. The film’s studio, TriStar Pictures Entertainment, also produce blockbuster hits such as, Baby Driver (2017), A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), and The Women King (2022). Despite not being a “major studio” TriStar produced these three films which earned a total box office revenue of $389.5 million.
But back to Bros. The film represents a love story with queer actors as well as openly out supporting characters. Happiest Season’s protagonist actor, Mackenzie Davis, is straight and her character comes out to her family in the film. Historically, films exhibit queer love stories connected to trauma or coming out stories. And Bros does not do this. But, anyone who has seen Happiest Season knows that Harper (Davis’ character) is kind of the villain.But if Clea DuVall doesn’t want Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Riley (Aubrey Plaza) together, who am I to complain?
I am Faith Duggan, and I am complaining about it. Abby and Riley ooze chemistry while Harper just keeps hurting Abby. But I digress.
Bros isn’t the first gay rom-com or gay man love story, their marketing just makes it seem like it.
Netflix’s Christmas rom-com, Single All The Way (2021), premiered prior to Bros, stars queer actors, has a Black person, doesn’t feature a coming out story, and is on a major streaming service (which arguably is more valuable than a studio in today’s world). So I think it’s clear that Bros isn’t the first, and it isn’t the last gay rom-com. But why ignore this film, especially when Luke Macfarlane is in both films?
Well, my film major brain has a small hypothesis.
I will be frank, Bros does push the needle forward as the film portrays the classic PG-13 rom-com sex scenes. But that’s about all it does. Bros utilizes classic romcom tropes that upholds hegemonic power.
Now, I’m not saying that Single All The Way drastically changed the world, but it is believed to be the first gay Christmas movie. And THE Christmas channel, Hallmark, is following in Netflix’s lead and is releasing its first gay Christmas movie, ultimately signaling a slight shift in the subgenre.
And while having a film like Bros starts the shift, the film also belittles and characterizes the minorities within the film. And, despite my love for the genre, this is a trope. Historically, people of color or the “gay best friend” are used to prop up the main protagonists. For example, My Best Friend's Wedding, Michael (Dermot Mulroney) supports Jules (Julia Roberts) in his role as the “gay best friend.” And, Dionne uplifts Cher in Clueless (1995).
In Bros, we have the Black best friend Tina (Monic Raymund), who, with the help of her husband, helps Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner) see the light, so to speak. But Bros villainized the queer characters of color in order to gain a sympathetic gaze of Bobby. By doing this, Bobby, an upper-middle-class cisgender white man, reinstates the power dynamic keeping him and people like him in power. This is supported by his partner’s similar traits. Bros also supports negative aspects of masculinity, the same ones the film tries to critique. (But the totality of that argument is for a different blog post.)
Recently, Netflix released Uncoupled, featuring the lives of rich queer and mostly white protagonists. As we venture into queer cinema, which we should and need to do, we must do so in a progressive way that positively characterizes queerness of all colors and classes. Intersectionality matters, and Bros and Uncouple ignore this aspect of identities. By doing so, they show how white gay men are still white men and uphold a power dynamic rather than subverting the power dynamic as a whole.
Please don’t get me wrong. I like Bros, and I will see it again. It functions as a classically styled rom-com, which is barely done well anymore. But by marketing themselves as the first gay rom-com produced by a major Hollywood studio, they report this as if no other gay rom-com exists. And while this is technically true, they erase the queer rom-coms that have come before, specifically those that counter race and gender themes within film.
Note: If you want to know more about how Bros uphold masculinity (a patriarchal norm) read here.