By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
“I forgot this was coming out today. That made me happy,” said the ticket taker as I went inside to watch “Bros,” marketed as a “boy meets bro love story,” which was released Sept. 30 to major theaters everywhere. The “major” part is important. As I sat in the theater watching other movie-goers find their seats, I wondered if it was still scary for a gay person to “come out” in both meanings of the phrase, by showing up to view a gay film. Because this is mainstream. This is AMC and Regal. This is not art house. And that’s what you’re doing, isn’t it? Announcing you are LGBTQ+, or side with LGBTQ+, when you buy a ticket for this film? I mean, it was just two days ago as I’m writing this that a man admitted to stalking gay men on Grindr in order to murder and dismember them.
Yeah. Sit with that. I’m not trying to be a downer here but to highlight how vital films like “Bros” are. If art reflects and influences life—which it does—then it recommends, predicts, and demonstrates values we might emulate—such as acceptance and tolerance of the LGBTQ+ community. Even if, as you hear in the trailer, “Gay sex was more fun when straight people were not okay with it,” it’s still not something you see often in Hollywood films. Not “Legends of the Fall”-style romantic sex. Not lying in bed talking naturally afterwards. Not play fighting before. Nope. None of this has been released to the mainstream as a gay version—until now.
I said previously that “Fire Island” was “the first all-LGBTQ-casted” film for a “major studio,” not “Bros,” as they had claimed in early advertising. But maybe “Bros” is the first major mainstream LGBTQ+ film, more because of who’s involved and who it might draw to the theater. That’s sad to say, yes, because it could be a race thing, at least in part. The major cast members in “Fire Island”—Bowen Yang and Joel Kim Booster—are Asian. The major cast members in “Bros”—Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane—are white. The director of “Fire Island,” Andrew Ahn, is Asian. The director of “Bros,” Nicholas Stoller, is white. Stoller is famous for, um, bro movies like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek.”
The point is there’s a built audience here for “Bros” that “Fire Island” didn’t have and which could give it more box office power and ultimately, staying power in making being gay mainstream.
Also—and I’m not criticizing “Fire Island” at all, I adored it—the idea of “Bros,” I think, is to show us more of “normal” gay life. In “Fire Island,” they are on vacation. It’s no holds barred, be everything you can’t be back home.
In “Bros,” they are home, living their everyday lives. There is a wealth of commentary on modern dating which could apply to straight people—“hook up” culture is everywhere—but in “Bros,” it applies to LGBTQ+ folks. One of my favorite parts is when Bobby (Eichner) describes single life as having, on one hand, tons of great friends you would never have sex with, and on the other hand, shallow Grindr hook up sex, which still somehow gives you the “warm fuzzies” the next day, and from these two poles, you piece together a life. Yes. That is exactly what modern dating is like.
Bobby is looking for love but doesn’t know it. He and many gay men have become so defensive and put up so many walls that finding romance is difficult. There are lots of jokes about “are we dating?” and making a pact to stay together for “three months” and then “re-evaluate.” Everyone is afraid of commitment and being vulnerable—although there are steady gay couples around them. Both Bobby and his love interest, Aaron (Macfarlane), are insecure. Bobby because Aaron is a “bro”—he’s buff and everyone he has sex with is buff—and Aaron because Bobby is intelligent and outspoken. Neither think they are worthy of real love.
This movie is really smart. And funny. There’s a ton of tongue in cheek at itself, at gay culture, at prior movies the “Bros” team have been involved in. Bobby is the head of an LGBTQ+ museum in New York. FYI, the timeline of the actual American LGBTQ+ Museum in New York is about the same, or a little behind, the one in the movie. Did I say movies can influence us? In real life, the museum has not yet opened. In “Bros,” the museum does open. Beforehand, they are debating what the exhibits could be. Bobby is very loud and controversial. For instance, he wants to proclaim that Abraham Lincoln was gay, based on a collection of letters.
The museum staff consists of one representative of each of the letters in LGBT and Q. There is a lot of making fun of each other’s stereotypes and fighting for equal representation. (“They cannot stop voguing!” Bobby complains at a club.) While there is humor there, the interactions reveal the struggle to be seen and heard. The group is frustrated with how Wanda, played by Miss Lawrence, a well-known Atlanta drag queen, spouts pacifist sound bites, ie. “I hear you and I support you,” until Wanda admits that in fact, she has so much anger inside that if she let it out, she would “kill every one of you.” It’s hilarious, extremely on point, and extremely sad.
Something that comes up a lot is how things are better. There is an older generation, such as the owner of the BnB Bobby and Aaron visit in “P-Town” (Provincetown, a popular LGBTQ+ resort alongside Fire Island), who mentions how many of his friends are dead (from the AIDS epidemic, no doubt). Bobby admits he’s jealous today’s gays get to grow up with “Glee,” but there is still a ton of censure as well, of gays hiding their true selves, of being asked to “tone it down,” of not following their dreams if those dreams seem “too gay.” There are also a lot of familiar romcom tropes translated into boy meets bro scenarios, which is a beautiful thing. Although the main couple is white, there is an “okay” amount of diversity in the cast. Bowen Yang reappears as a rich gay man the museum is begging for funding and even though his role is more of a cameo, he milks it for all its worth. “You’re too old to go in the pool. Goodbye!”
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention one more thing. We all know of the #loveislove campaign, a well-meaning effort to support gay marriage and gay culture amongst non-gays. In “Bros,” though, they insist that #loveisnotlove. Gay love is not straight love. It is different. Humans are a kaleidoscope. “My story is not your story,” says Bobby. “Go write your own damn story.”
Bro. Word up.
“Bros” is playing at your local theaters.
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.