Director: Nicholas Stoller (USA). Year of Release: 2022
Bobby is a 40 year old gay man who we first see addressing the sycophantic listeners of his podcast who write in asking him to tell them about his children’s books and invitations to make a Hollywood film. As he recounts the story, none of the projects gets off the ground, because apparently the world is not yet ready for gay friendly popular culture. Neither Bobby nor his adoring public stop to consider that maybe he’s just not good enough a writer.
The podcast is just something he does in his spare time. His full-time job is as a curator of the world’s first National LGBTQ+ History Museum. The rest of the museum’s board is a group of bickering stereotypes. Are the scenes of their board meetings a biting satire on identify politics or a lazy rehashing of tired clichés? To be honest, they’re a bit of both. The acting is good, so it’s all amusing enough, but we’re hardly breaking down any barriers here.
At a gay disco, Bobby and his bestie Henry look down with contempt on all the bare chested men who are dancing. Bobby says that gay men are all either stupid or highly intelligent. You get the feeling that the latter category includes himself and virtually no-one else. Bobby is one of those rich white guys who is self-confident enough to sound like he’s saying something intelligent, but the more that you listen to him, the more you realise that he’s got little to say.
Bobby points out someone who is on the dance floor. Henry says, yeah, that’s Aaron. He looks great, but he’s a bit stupid. When Aaron comes over and proves capable of being articulate, and even witty, Bobby is bowled over. He attempts to flirt, while at the same time feeling out of his league. It takes a particular form of self-pity to resent a man who is way better looking than you for not being able to appreciate your hidden genius.
Bros is promoting itself as being the first Hollywood gay romcom which stars gay actors. This means that it is important for breaking down barriers which have been up for way too long. But there’s something about all those qualifiers that show that it’s nothing that new. Anyone familiar with the films of Andy Warhol or John Waters knows that gay films with gay characters have been available for decades. And even Merchant fucking Ivory did a gay film with Maurice.
Although Bobby gets paid top dollar to tell people about LGBT history, he is either unaware or indifferent to remotely independent films. Bros ridicules Bareback Mountain as something used by straight actors to win Oscars, and Call Me by Your Name as the only gay film that straight people have heard of, yet his, and the film’s, purview remains clearly within mainstream Hollywood. The exclusion of gay voices from Hollywood is, of course, a scandal, but surely culture is more than this.
Bros clearly aspires to being a gay Nora Ephron film. There are explicit references to You’ve Got Mail and When Harry met Sally. There’s nothing wrong with this, as such. Plenty of people love Nora Ephron. Indeed, I’m in a bit of a minority when I find her films mainly mainly derivative and predictable. Let’s have that argument about Ephron another day though – the main problem is not that Bros tries to emulate these films, but that it doesn’t do it very well.
Bros takes a lot of time to explain to us that gay sexual experiences are qualitatively different to equivalent straight relationships. This may or may not be true. But if it is, why does everything have to be filtered through the traditional bland story line – boy meets boy, boy falls out with boy, both boys pine for each other until the inevitable proposal? It’s true that the proposal we view here is for a 3 month trial relationship, but we know what’s expected after that.
For all the mentions of Grindr and foursomes, Bros is terribly, boringly, predictable. The story arc is exactly as you’d expect it to be. There is no dramatic tension, no sense that something might happen that you didn’t expect a long time before. But there is one moment where – for me at least – Bros transformed from an uneventful and predictable romcom to a reminder of one of my worst experiences in a cinema.
We’ll have to take a diversion here. I am convinced that the absolutely worst film adaptations is About a Boy. Now, there are many worse films, but what makes About a Boy so terrible is how much worse it is than Nick Hornby’s book. And it is nowhere more worse than when it replaces an emo teenager’s rage at the death of Kurt Cobain with Hugh Grant getting up on stage and singing about why we should be nice to each other.
Similarly, just before the end of Bros, Bobby gets up and sings a love song to Aaron. As he introduces the song, he say that there will be cynical people out there who will hate it. Well, let me send a message from planet cynicism. The song, the scene, the sentiment are all so mawkish that they had me searching for the sick bucket. The real cynicism came from the people who thought that they could use such manipulative sentimentality instead of anything like a plot.
My problem with Bros is that it tries to have its cake and eat it. There’s a running joke about the kitsch Hallheart Channel, which has learned to add a few gay characters to it’s banal storyline, in deference to the pink pound. But isn’t this exactly what Bros is trying to do? On the one hand, we should celebrate Bros for encroaching on Hollywood with something which should have been mainstream decades ago. At the same time, I was bitterly disappointed by how anaemic it all was.