Review: Queer love, history, culture are front and center in deftly humorous ‘Bros’

Universal Pictures

Jake Guldin, news correspondent

This year has seen a widespread rejuvenation of romantic comedy films. From massive theatrical releases like “The Lost City” to streaming juggernauts like “Fire Island,” audiences have been presented with a wealth of outrageously funny and abundantly sweet romance stories — and “Bros” is no exception.

The film follows gay podcaster and National LGBTQ+ Museum curator Bobby Leiber (Billy Eichner) as he juggles preparations for the museum’s opening and a blossoming relationship with the gym-loving probate lawyer Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane).

Eichner, who co-wrote the film with director Nicholas Stoller, proves to be a perfect match for the character of Bobby, as the two are, in many ways, one and the same. As a result, Eichner is able to employ his usual brand of bombastic comedy — which is best exemplified in his work on “Billy on the Street,” a comedy game show he created and hosted — to great effect. He uses exaggerated facial expressions, movements and vocal intonation in conjunction with perfect comedic timing to ensure that even the most stoic of viewers will crack a smile.

As Bobby, Eichner is often afforded a number of opportunities to flex his dramatic acting chops as well — such as in a scene where Bobby and Aaron argue over the former’s flamboyant and “rude” attitude during a dinner with the latter’s family — granting the comedian a chance to show a side of him rarely observed in his other work.

Opposite Eichner is an absolutely impeccable Macfarlane, matching him expertly in these aforementioned dramatic scenes while carrying tangible romantic chemistry with him in the lighter moments that comprise the majority of their relationship and, therefore, the film. Just as impressive is his ability to communicate his character’s struggle with his identity as a more masculine — and even straight-passing — gay man through the way he acts and reacts to the world around him. In one such scene, found early in the film, he communicates Aaron’s insecurities and trepidation through facial contortions and a sudden mood change as Bobby gives him a personal tour of the National LGBTQ+ Museum’s queer history wing.

This scene is one of many that speaks to what is inarguably the film’s greatest strength: its screenplay. “Bros” does a superb job of balancing witty humor with the more serious issues and quandaries of the LGBTQ+ experience. The screenplay tackles a wide array of issues: the diversity found within queerness; the importance of queer representation (especially for queer people of color); and how mantras like “love is love,” while nice in sentiment, fail to account for the nuanced differences between straight and queer relationships. Although these topics are not fully explored in the film itself — it is, after all, a romantic comedy first and foremost — their mentions are incredibly refreshing given how rarely they come up in film at all.

That being said, the decision to only show brief glimpses into the lives of some of the more diverse (in terms of race, sexuality and gender identity), immensely interesting and equally charming supporting players — such as Angela (Ts Madison), Marty (Symone) and Lawrence Grape (Bowen Yang) — is a disappointing oversight on the part of the filmmakers, as further exploration of these characters would have been deeply rewarding.

Another of the film’s oversights occurs in the editing room. Despite the film’s frequent jokes and best attempts at keeping its audience entertained, it feels as if it goes on for longer than it ought to. Some scenes could have been tighter — even some of the funniest ones, such as a moment in the film where Bobby, after a messy fight with Aaron, takes steroids and goes to the gym, drag on for longer than they should — while others could have been removed outright.

The rest of the craft behind “Bros,” however, is, for the most part, perfectly adequate. There is nothing exactly remarkable about the film’s direction, cinematography or costumes (save for a few instances, such as when a number of drag queens appear in glamorous garb during a Provincetown Pride parade), but considering the film’s goals, this is more than acceptable; not every film needs to radically excel in these departments to thrive.

Ultimately, “Bros” is a delightfully clever romantic comedy whose raucous jokes and layered insights into the nuances of the LGBTQ+ community are, in spite of a few minor hiccups, not to be missed.