TIFF 2022: Bros Review

10s, 10s, 10s across the board!

It feels odd to say this about the most commercial movie at TIFF this year, but Bros might be the one film this year that truly moves a needle. The first out-and-proud gay rom-com made (mostly) by gays for a major studio, Bros is a milestone long overdue. Let’s not overlook the wonder of this year’s ditched-to-streaming Fire Island, nor the cracks The Birdcage, In & Out, and countless indies bitch-slapped into the ceiling, but there’s something unique about laughing collectively with two thousand people in a theatre over gay jokes where the gays aren’t the butt of the joke. More exciting than the milestone, however, is the happy relief that Bros delivers as a movie. It’s fucking hilarious. Filmgoers from all stripes of the rainbow, and their allies, should laugh from beginning to end. Bros is a sharp, funny, and spot-on portrait of gay life.

Written by Billy Eichner, who is openly gay, and Nicholas Stoller, who is openly straight, with the latter directing, Bros hits all the right notes. This mainstream studio comedy should play for a wide audience while shooting to the hearts of specific viewers. Eichner stars as Bobby, a 40-year-old gay with a podcast, cynical attitude, and terrible love life. Bobby is also leading the curation of a new museum devoted to the history of LGBTQ rights. He therefore has all things gay on the brain, which makes him an Energizer Bunny of musings about what it means to be a gay man in 2021. Whether that’s cause to swipe left or right on hookup apps is another man’s choice.

 

The Dating Game

Bobby gets some fieldwork to test his preconceptions of queerness when his friend invites him to an app launch. The dating app, named after Renée Zellweger, lets men hook up with other dudes who simply want to discuss actresses before going to sleep. (This joke is, admittedly, the most “seen” I’ve ever felt during a movie.) Moreover, well-executed gags like the one about men for whom M4M means Meryl-4-Meryl show how Bros unabashedly plays inside baseball for the gays. However, these jokes should land just as heartily for audiences keeping pace with Eichner’s ramblings about culture, love, and life.

Making so much self-deprecating noise with his mouth, however, lets Bobby gaze onto the dance floor where he locks eyes with a total hunk. Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) is a chiseled bro with pecs that double as nice, firm pillows. The exchange between Bobby and Aaron does for men what the eye-lock did for women in Carol. It starts with a glance, and Bobby soon finds himself obsessing over the kind of ultra-hunky beefcake he’s taught himself to abhor. Aaron is the strong silent type who prefers silence to nattering, Garth Brooks to Mariah Carey, and CrossFit to Crossroads. However, opposites inevitably attract.

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Bobby and Aaron begin a cautious seduction. They trade monosyllabic texts, GIFs, and emojis, but their first dates are rocky. Bobby never stops being a walking seminar class on queerness, while Aaron consistently keeps his plans to be the hot dog to a married couple’s buns. Sometimes, these preoccupations collide and let Bobby wax philosophical amid a hot-if-awkward four-way. But they’re also fun observations about the desire to distinguish queer love from heteronormative coupling.

 

Refreshingly, Painstakingly Inclusive

Eichner and Stoller finely balance the challenge of defining queer love when history long denied it. The film is refreshingly and inclusive as Bobby’s wraps his head around the funny thing called love. The sounding board for Bobby’s soul-searching is the board of directors at the museum. These roles are drolly and painstakingly curated with a lesbian (Dot-Marie Jones), bisexual (Jim Rash), transgender women (TS Madison and Eve Lindley), and a gender non-conforming chair (Miss Lawrence) each fighting for a larger slice of the equitable representation pie. Each chair bitchily and passive-aggressively one-ups their oppression or wokeness, reminding Bobby that, as a cis-gender white man, he moves through life with relative privilege.

This privilege also makes the casting of Macfarlane and his well-toned pecs essential. As a masculine man who can pass as straight, Aaron is ostensibly the only gay to whom Bobby can feel inferior. However, Aaron’s soft teddy-bear demeanour, and his unhappiness with working a relatively boring if comfortable job (he’s a lawyer specializing in wills), forces Bobby to check his definition of queerness. Bobby’s ability to love Aaron requires an active process of unlearning all the stereotypes and self-loathing that comes with being gay.

There’s a beautiful moment in the film when Bobby and Aaron take a trip to Provincetown. The site of gay history affords the men some soul-searching as Bobby unpacks the veneer of confidence that Aaron finds so attractive. Eichner delivers a soul-baring monologue about the challenge of being authentic after a life spent in the closet. The lip-lock that follows might get the headlines, but the grains of truth Eichner offers are what make Bros monumental.

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What Is Love?

Eichner proves himself a formidable leading man here. He’s as comfortable with the rapid-fire neuroses as he his offering words from the heart. Macfarlane, meanwhile, is irresistibly charming man-candy. He’s also a great sport to be in on his own jokes. Bros nods to the Hallmark Channel movies that form much of Macfarlane’s filmography as Bobby observes how mainstream culture cashes in on queer representation without actively contributing to it. The film also playfully takes aim at movies that cast straight men in Oscar bait roles for “playing gay.” Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t get off easy, nor should it, as Bobby’s call-out of Hollywood straightwashing observes that Eichner and company know the weight of their responsibility. There are obviously more stories to be told, but watching Eichner and Macfarlane get passionately hot-and-heavy to “Nat King Cole” makes Bros feel like the game-changer it advertises itself to be.

Bros raises the issue of inclusion and representation while giving two men their When Harry Met Sally moments. There’s earnest cheese alongside the expected zingers about anal, dick pics, and Debra Messing. (A real sport, that one!) But the Hollywood ending to which Bros inevitably leads isn’t a cop-out. The well-earned heartstopper brings laughter to the hearts and tears to the eyes. Sometimes it’s nice to see men get together instead of dying of AIDS or being beaten at the side of the road.

Bobby, moreover, preaches his disdain for the popular and corporately co-opted slogan “love is love” throughout the film. But it’s really just a shield for the challenge of learning how to love in a world that’s taught you that your life and love are less than that of others, and finding out what that means on your own terms. No matter one’s stance on versatility, Bros is tops.

 

Bros screens as a part of TIFF 2022 and opens in theatres Sept. 30.

Head here for more from the festival.



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