Bros is advertised as groundbreaking. Universal, a major studio, produced it. It cost $22 million, and its advertising budget is estimated at $40 million. The film opened “wide,” that is on 3,350 nationwide screens. Judd Apatow, a big name in comedy, co-produced. Bros was a spectacular flop. It took in only about $5 million in its opening weekend.
On Sunday, October 2, before the weekend had even concluded, Billy Eichner, who stars and co-wrote Bros’ script, went public to accuse the audiences who refused to pay to see his movie. They are homophobes. “Even with glowing reviews and great Rotten Tomatoes scores … straight people … just didn’t show up for Bros.” Eichner singled out the South and the Midwest as benighted regions that could not accept the film.
Bros is marketed as a romantic comedy. Romantic comedy is often dismissed as a silly, unimportant genre. That’s at least partly because romantic comedy is a genre associated with women, and also because, in recent years, the quality of films in this genre has dramatically deteriorated. That decay of the genre says much about sexual confusion in the wider culture. Done right, romantic comedy is as worthy a cultural product as any other genre, including the “serious” ones like war, spy, epic, courtroom, and crime movies. The place romantic comedy used to occupy in American culture, and the abysmal quality of recent efforts like Bros, says much, none of it encouraging, about the trajectory of relationships, maturity levels, and sex roles in America.
Scholars trace the origins of romantic comedy to Ancient Greek fertility rites. I trace romantic comedy to a film that has never been bettered, Frank Capra’s 1934 It Happened One Night. It Happened One Night establishes a standard for the best of what romantic comedy can offer. What, exactly, does romantic comedy offer?
It Happened One Night is eye candy. It offers beautiful clothes, sets, and people. Beauty is hard work. Lighting, sound, set direction, costumes, gestures, as well as faces and bodies, all have to work together to click into a harmonious whole. One discordant note and the visual symphony clangs to the ground as visual cacophony. I live in a post-industrial, low income city. Trash and junkies litter our streets. Films that usher me into ninety minutes of beauty are essential for me.
Claudette Colbert stars as Ellie, a headstrong heiress escaping her domineering father, in It Happened One Night. Colbert’s huge, wide set eyes, button nose, bee stung lips and cute little body were made for a romantic comedy heroine, and oh those legs! Legs that she famously bared to stop traffic when hitchhiking. Colbert’s almost pre-pubescent body and cherubic face contrasted marvelously with her voice, so knowing, so tuned for deadpan sarcasm that sliced right through any folly. Her voice could drop to a feline growl capable of expressing surprisingly smoldering, vulnerable desire.
Colbert’s co-star, Clark Gable, playing newspaperman Peter Warne, bared his well-toned chest, and a probably false legend arose that undershirt sales dropped by 75%. Colbert and Gable are simply two beautiful human beings. The camera flatters them, always. There’s not a single shot in this film when you are reminded that both were flawed – Gable had false teeth and Colbert had a rather flattish chest.
Romantic comedies should live up to the second part of their name and they should make audiences laugh. In It Happened One Night, Ellie jumps a budget night bus from Florida to New York. Character actor Roscoe Karns appears as Oscar Shapely, a traveling salesman. Shapely tries to seduce Ellie with slimy, ridiculous, fast talking innuendo. Shapely’s lust is disgusting, menacing, and laughable. Capra took a real life situation – the dangers threatening a pretty, naïve young woman traveling alone on a night bus – and he whipped that into a comic merengue. Capra hands the ultimate victory to Ellie, and he makes Shapely look ridiculous. As a woman who has been harassed on public transport, I cherish this scene more than more heavy-handed and unrealistic depictions of feminist conquest in films like Thelma and Louise and Wonder Woman.
And that’s what romantic comedies do and do very well. They take the moment in time that they inhabit and they turn that moment into lighthearted art. It Happened One Night takes place during the Depression, and Depression-era America is evident in scene after scene. An unemployed widow, traveling with her young son, faints from hunger. Bus passengers pool donations. Passengers are bored, and they begin a spontaneous sing-along. Road thieves rob travelers. A desperate man barters for gas. The gas station attendant accepts a fedora in exchange for a full tank.
I feel, when I’m watching this low-budget, lighthearted comedy, that I’m watching as valid a glimpse of Depression-era America as any documentary that PBS might produce. Actor and director John Cassavetes said that, “Maybe there never was an America in the thirties. Maybe it was all Frank Capra.” Capra, a Sicilian immigrant, and a director at Columbia, a relatively minor and low-budget studio, was able to create, through romantic comedies, an image of American life in his time that was so powerful that viewers took it as reality.
Romantic comedies, at their best, feed our need for beauty, for escape, for humor, and for a mirror that crystallizes the time we live in. Romantic comedies also, again, at their best, tell us something about that which our hearts most desire: love, sex, relationships, marriage, children, and a future. Critics slam romantic comedies as formulaic. “The boy and the girl meet cute. There are complications. They end up together. The end.”
Such criticism misses the point. No one goes to Swan Lake to see how the plot turns out. Anyone who has even just seen the poster knows what’s going to happen. It’s a dark fairy tale. A virginal prince falls in love with a cursed waterfowl. Things, unsurprisingly, end badly. Audiences don’t buy tickets for the “what,” as in “What happens next?” They go for the “how,” for how the prima ballerina will carry out the demanding choreography. Odile must execute thirty-two fouettés, a move that audiences love to witness but that exhausts dancers to perform. You watch Swan Lake to have your breath taken away by the how, the magic of a human body, through choreography, transforming into a swan. You go to witness this.
“The two become one flesh:” that’s as difficult as thirty-two fouettés. Opposites attract and work things out; if that were not true, none of us would be here. Men and women are different, with different agendas. He may want quick and no-commitment coupling. She may want nothing to do with him, but if they are to get together, it will be with a commitment. The magic a good romantic comedy conjures is a reflection of the very demanding choreography we all perform if we want to have anything to do with our fellow humans.
Gable’s character, Peter Warne, is a hard-drinking, arrogant, unemployed newspaper reporter. Peter and Ellie hate each other, not just because of his arrogance and her hoity-toity snobbery. They hate each other for reasons of socioeconomic class. Class is a Molotov cocktail in the depths of the Depression. In 1933, unemployment was at 25%. There were droughts, heat waves, and dust storms. The famous “White Angel Bread Line” photo is dated 1933. When Capra put a poor but smart working man and an heiress on the same night bus, he was playing with fire.
How Capra gets Ellie and Peter to fall in love – how he performs the thirty-two fouettés – is the payoff for the viewer. It really is chemistry. Two volatile elements crash into each other and create a new compound, one more valuable and more stable than two separate elements.
Peter and Ellie must unite against a common enemy, an enemy many feared in the Depression. They are both on the run, trying to evade discovery by Ellie’s father. Lawmen enter their motel and demand identification. Peter and Ellie spontaneously improvise a comedy routine that throws the lawmen off their scent. They make each other laugh and they share triumph when the lawmen leave. Later, they camp out in a hay field. Ellie becomes frightened and cries out. Peter comforts her – and boy oh boy does Mother Nature toss the sparks between them. The cinematography in this scene is pure magic; the dew-moistened hay glistens like a field of stars.
Peter tries to push Ellie to become more like him. He teaches her how to dunk donuts, and how to hitchhike. The one becoming more like the other is a constant theme in romantic comedy, and in real relationships. Also, in Peter’s comical lessons for Ellie, Capra is imparting a larger lesson to his desperate audiences. “You are poor,” he is saying, “And life is hard. You may fantasize how wonderful it would be to be rich. But you know how to make the best of even small things: donuts and coffee; the open road. This rich girl needs to learn from you. Monetary wealth is not everything. Appreciate what you have that even the rich don’t.”
Slowly but surely, Ellie does become more like Peter. She forgets her fiancée and kneels by Peter’s bed one night, ready to throw caution to the winds and surrender to a reckless night of passion. But chemistry has been working on Peter, as well. At the beginning of the film, there’s no doubt that pre-Ellie Peter would have jumped at the offer of a one-night-stand. But Peter has come to care about Ellie, and this care has matured him. “You’d better go back to your bed,” he tells her. He doesn’t say this because he doesn’t want her; clearly he does. He says this because love has changed him. He doesn’t have a job, and Ellie is rich. Peter knows it would benefit neither of them if he jumped into bed, as an unemployed man, with an heiress. He makes up his mind right then and there – not to have sex with her immediately, but to find a job so that he can support the woman he suddenly wants to make his wife.
A man turning down sex he wants. A man feeling that he must have a job before he can invite a woman into his life. A man suddenly convinced that he must marry a woman before he makes love to her. Please don’t ever again tell me that romantic comedies have nothing culturally significant to say.
For once the Academy got it right. It Happened One Night won the “Big Five” Academy Awards: Best picture, director, leads, and screenplay. Only two other films have repeated that feat: 1975’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs.
Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Leo McCarey, Ernst Lubitsch, Neil Simon, and others made romantic comedies as sophisticated and essential as It Happened One Night. Doris Day and Rock Hudson, starring together and with others, made laugh-out-loud bedroom farces that are just as good today as they were the day they were made. Woody Allen’s 1977 Annie Hall was nominated for the big five; it won four. Nora Ephron revived romantic comedy as a genre, starting with 1989’s When Harry Met Sally through to 1998’s You’ve Got Mail.
With Ephron’s death, romantic comedies have been on life support. American culture has rejected many of the premises. Men and women must not be understood as significantly different. Women must not be resistant to uncommitted sex. Men must not behave in any way consistent with traditional masculinity. Marriage must not be seen as a life goal, or even as a good.
Even so, romantic comedy refuses to die. Hints of romantic comedy occur in the endless Austen adaptations. It’s okay to be a traditional male or female if the year on the calendar is 1813, the place is the English countryside, and the cast of characters are landed gentry. The TV show Friends was a romantic comedy, with Ross and Rachel struggling to honor rom-com conventions for ten long, implausible years. The question is never “Will Ross and Rachel get together?” rather it is, “How? Will he give up his jealousy and need to control? Will she give up her career, and will she learn to forgive him for his past mistakes?” People ask these questions every day.
Bros’ publicity campaign insists that Bros is groundbreaking because it is the first gay romantic comedy by a major studio featuring an almost all-LGBTQ+ cast. In fact, though, positive depictions of LGBTQ+ themes have been appearing in high-profile entertainment for some time. I saw Personal Best in 1982, Desert Hearts in 1985, The Crying Game in 1992, Jeffrey in 1995, and I saw all of these films in mainstream, suburban movie theaters, including in the Midwest, a region that Eichner condemns as too backward to appreciate his artistry. Philadelphia in 1993 offered a heroic depiction of a gay lawyer played by America’s male sweetheart, Tom Hanks. Maurice, starring A-list star Hugh Grant, offered a poignant depiction of gay male love in 1987, as did Brokeback Mountain in 2005; 2005 also saw the release of Transamerica, a sympathetic depiction of a trans person. The Imitation Game in 2014 highlighted the heroism and persecution of mathematician Alan Turing; Transparent premiered that same year. Fire Island, a gay rom-com which came out earlier in 2022, has been well received by critics and audiences.
Call Me By Your Name, a 2017 love story between two men, did well at the box office as well as with critics. It was nominated for numerous awards, including the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, and Best Song. It has a 7.8 rating at IMDB, and a 94% professional reviewer and an 86% amateur reviewer score at Rotten Tomatoes. Billy Eichner is incorrect. It’s not homophobia that tanked Bros.
Bros may be the first mainstream film to include, in a leading role, someone like TS Madison. Madison is, in real life, a transgender prostitute and porn producer and performer. A DuckDuckGo search of TS Madison coughs up images that look like they were filmed in a bus station bathroom. An obese man with large breast implants and a large penis performs graphic sex acts. Madison is known as “Big Dick Bitch” and “Shemale Porn Star.”
Commenting on how his johns react to his obesity, Madison says, “A Black man wants to ‘tear that up.’ He wants to put that thing on all fours.” Madison imitates women and gets paid to invite men to treat a female-appearing body as a “thing” that they “put on all fours.” Ironically, Madison produces black trans porn because “White America dominates us in every aspect.” Madison is proud that he has encouraged black men who appear to be straight to have sex with trans prostitutes. Women write Madison to say, “That is my baby’s daddy, how did he get on your site?”
At the Atlanta premier of Bros, Madison greeted other men in womanface – the trans analogy to blackface – including at least one man wearing very obvious, not just fake breasts, but fake nipples. Madison insisted that “chirrun” – children – should watch Bros because “we have contributions to society.” One might ponder for a long time: what “contributions” have porn performers and prostitutes “had to society” that children could learn from?
In Bros, Madison stars as a member of a board launching America’s first major LGBTQ+ museum. For this board, Bros’ filmmakers did not choose scholars, loving family members, or human rights activists. Their choice provides a hint as to how Bros functions as a romantic comedy.
Porn and romantic comedy are different genres. They are driven by different narrative engines. That’s one reason why porn films are shorter and are even more formulaic. “Fetish X gives me an orgasm in Y number of minutes. Done:” that narrative has made Madison a rich man. Romantic comedy asks different questions. “Do I really want to grow up, and give up my carefree, independent youth? Do I want someone to be at the hospital when I get sick? Do I want to make a baby with another? Do I want to grow old with someone? Do I trust the other enough to name this person on my Advance Directive form, and in my will? Can I make ‘one flesh’ with someone who is so very different from me, and who annoys me and lets me down?”
Attempting to combine porn with romantic comedy is like attempting to combine sushi with pizza, a financial statement with a bedtime story. Financial statements demand the kind of catastrophic thinking that bedtime stories are meant to quell. Porn is meant to short-circuit long-term thinking and social ballet. Romantic comedies demand long-term thinking and they don’t work at all without adherence to social ballet – which explains the endless Jane Austen iterations. Social etiquette was rigid in Regency England. Porn is for an audience of one: a person, his horniness, and his fetish. Romantic comedy is for all of us, because we are all the product of two opposites who united to make us.
Romantic comedy, to be successful, must appeal to the widest possible audience. Any of us should be able to see ourselves as the leads, so the leads must be attractive enough, and vague enough, to serve as vicarious surrogates to a wide audience. “Attractive” does not equal “representational,” and not even representational of white people. Only five percent of white people have blonde hair. Twenty percent of Americans are obese. Only about a third of American whites have blue eyes. And yet in films the female lead in a romantic comedy is, more often than not, a thin, blue-eyed blonde, because that is the person audiences want to look at, and, possibly, look like.
Billy Eichner, for reasons discussed below, doesn’t work as the lead in Bros. Luke Macfarlane is more conventionally attractive than Eichner, but his is a bland presence. Macfarlane lacks that mysterious something that creates charisma.
Sex is different for men and women. Men are more likely to be aroused by paraphilia, fetishes, and visual stimuli. When men have sex with women, these differences are blunted by women’s lesser involvement in behaviors more typically male. When men have sex with other men, these behaviors become more prominent. Gay men as a group are more likely to be involved in paraphilia, fetishes, and to emphasize visual stimuli. Gay men are more likely to be fit than straight men, because, otherwise, they would not be able to have sex. Similarly, given women’s lesser emphasis on visual stimuli, lesbian women are more likely to be overweight than straight women.
Men are more open to one-time, relatively anonymous encounters. This drive is so insistent that gay men protested being asked to give up such encounters even at the onset of the AIDS crisis, and the later Monkey Pox outbreak. In July, 2022, a Twitter user self-identifying as “Babethepigboi” posted that he attended orgies, “guzzled a metric f—ton of human piss” and “had sexual contact with somewhere in the ballpark of 15-20 different men.” And, yes, he contracted monkeypox.
How does a gay romantic comedy make the transition from a genre in which sex is an important milestone, to a population for whom sex has a significantly different meaning? Bros attempts to introduce other milestones. For example, its leads attend orgies together.
Bros opens with Billy Eichner appearing as New Yorker Bobby Leiber delivering a podcast. Eichner / Bobby shouts rather than speaks; his voice is a monotone. Bobby, the fictional character, is whining that he had been invited to write a Hollywood rom-com, “Something the whole world would enjoy.”
This request enrages Bobby. Bobby shouts, “Am I going to get butt f—ed by Jason Mamoa?” Bobby’s position is, “No anal sex, no rom-com!” He doesn’t want to make a movie that the whole world would enjoy. In this scene, we witness Eichner’s self-defeating stance. He wants “straights” in the Midwest and South to pay to see a movie he guarantees they will not enjoy.
“Love is love?” he screams. “No, it’s not. That’s bulls—. Love is not love. Our relationships are different. Our sex lives are different. Not all gay people are nice.” Later in the film, Bobby will say, “Love is not love. Men are horny, selfish, and stupid … I don’t trust gay mother—ers.” He also says, “Gay men are constantly catering to their own whims and needs which can change on a dime and we never think about the consequences to the other person … Gay relationships today are like a clown car. Oh, look, another one. Oh, another one. Oh, another one.” That is, he is pointing out, gay men are promiscuous. Gay men, Bobby observes, don’t like vulnerability because “it is a boner killer.” On The View, Eichner claimed that he wanted to make a rom-com just like all the other rom-coms he loves. Given his parameters, that is, given his insistence on smashing the genre’s conventions, it is clear that Eichner wants something that he cannot have.
In short, in the opening scene of Bros, Bobby, the fictional character played by Billy Eichner, warns the audience that he does not want to please the audience with “nice” characters who will “love” each other because “love is not love” and anal sex and promiscuity are non-negotiable essentials to gay men.
At the film’s five minute mark, Bobby is shown scrolling through Grinder images of bare-chested men. He texts one of these men and identifies as a “bottom.” He goes to the man’s apartment. They say only “Hey, what’s up,” before they undress, kiss, fall onto a bed, masturbate, and then part. On the street, Bobby tosses a used latex glove into a trash can. The scene lasts about two minutes.
Bobby dines with his racially diverse friends, three of whom have formed a “thruple;” that is, they are now committed to a threesome. Paul, a thruple member, phones his grandmother and announces, “Peter and I are jointly f—ing a third person.” Grandma squeals in delight, and repeats the announcement, f-word included, to grandpa. Throughout the film, the f-word is used repeatedly. I don’t think anyone ever says “make love.”
At the ten minute mark, Bobby goes to a party, where bare-chested men dance in strobe lights to throbbing music. Bobby meets Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane), a man wearing a baseball cap and endowed with the chest of a body builder. Bobby tells Aaron that people consider him “boring.” This rude and cruel statement is typical of what Bobby says to Aaron throughout the film. Bobby’s point is that good looking, well-built men like Aaron are not as deep and intelligent as he is. Bobby is thin with little musculature, but he considers himself culturally advanced.
“That guy’s hot, right?” Aaron says, pointing to a bare-chested man dancing sinuously atop a table. “I’m supposed to f— him and his husband later.” We are to understand that Aaron’s telling a stranger that he is about to “f—” two other men is a form of flirtation. Bobby and Aaron kiss.
At the seventeen minute mark, Bobby is watching You’ve Got Mail, a Nora Ephron romantic comedy, and chatting via Grinder. A man demands a “dick pic.” Bobby declines. “Need to see ass pic,” the man then demands. Bobby attempts to shave his buttocks. He accidentally cuts himself. “How am I gonna s— now? I can’t f—. I can’t s—,” he whines, to no one. He tries to take a picture but he whines that his buttocks “is too f—ing flat.” He changes the lighting to enhance the appearance of his buttocks. He sends the ass pic to the stranger on Grinder. The stranger views the ass pic and immediately blocks Bobby.
Bobby chairs a meeting planning America’s first major LGBTQ+ museum. A lesbian, three men who identify as women, and a bisexual shout at each other about each group’s competing history. Each member insists that his group has suffered the most or made the most significant contributions. One suggests that the museum should host a gay wedding. Bobby shouts this down. “No!” Weddings and marriage, he insists, are “heteronormative nonsense. We need to get people to rethink history through a queer prism.”
This statement echoes the opening scene, where Bobby had been asked to make an audience-friendly gay rom-com. Bobby consistently insists that gay people are different from straight people and that the rules that apply to straight people do not apply to gay people. These statements echo Billy Eichner’s insistence that Bros is valuable because it was co-written by a gay man, himself, and it stars LGBTQ+ performers. Eichner never makes clear how he can use the format of a romantic comedy to make art that meets his requirements for authentically LGBTQ+ media.
Bobby and Aaron reconnect. Aaron reports that having sex with the two married men was “fun.” “Their surrogate is pregnant and they’re having a gender-reveal orgy.” Bobby and Aaron go to the home of the married male couple. At the film’s twenty-nine minute mark, we see bare-chested Bobby and Aaron kissing. The camera pans down and reveals that they are simultaneously being fellated by two other naked men, presumably the expectant fathers whose surrogate is pregnant.
Bobby visits a straight couple and counsels their young son about being gay, “Jesus had a wife and he was gay.” Bobby enters into a discussion of anal sex in front of this child.
Bobby and Aaron go to the park. Aaron ogles well-built men. Bobby is jealous. They argue, wrestle and kiss. Realizing that wrestling is a mutual turn-on, they go to Aaron’s apartment, wrestle some more, and show off their biceps to each other. They also suck on each others’ fingers and toes, and inhale alkyl nitrite, a drug more commonly known as poppers. This drug relaxes sphincter muscles and facilitates anal sex, which the two actors then simulate.
They travel to Provincetown. Harvey Fierstein provides a cameo. “If you want to f—, just let me know.” Fierstein says to them, hitting them on the buttocks. Bobby discovers Aaron injecting testosterone. “Half the guys I know do this stuff,” he says.
“Half the guys you know are roided out morons,” Bobby replies.
“It doesn’t bother you when you obsess on my body.”
Testosterone injection is not further discussed in the film.
Bobby and Aaron visit a potential museum donor. He will donate, but only if the museum includes a display dedicated to gay suffering, featuring a “monstrous Reagan face saying ‘Shining city on a hill’ while chasing you.”
Shortly after, Aaron and Bobby are relaxing on a beach. Bobby begins a monologue. Bobby goes on and on about how victimized he has been in life. During his monologue, he never connects with Aaron. He never says to this relatively new acquaintance, “I’m pouring a lifetime of my pain on you. Is that okay? Am I overwhelming you?” Bobby’s self-absorption and lack of awareness of the other’s presence made me cringe. It doesn’t help that Eichner, throughout the film, always talks as if he were having a screaming match with a homeless person on a subway platform with trains rattling past. Loud, angry shouting alienates.
Add to Bobby’s / Eichner’s grating voice his depthless self-pity. He’s relaxing with a beer, while sitting in an Adirondack chair, on a beach in Provincetown, an expensive vacation spot, after getting a promise of a five million dollar donation, while next to him lounges his picture-perfect lover. All he can do is think about himself and his own woes. Never in the film does Bobby / Eichner reveal any concern for anyone beyond his focus on himself and other gay men as victims.
Bobby and Aaron have an orgy with Josh and Steve. Josh and Aaron used to play sports in high school. Steve is short and looks Jewish; he’s meant to be both obnoxious and comical. Eichner wants us to pity Bobby because he’s not a muscular gym rat; Eichner tosses in a short, Jewish-looking guy for comic effect. The abuse of Steve underlines Eichner’s theme: “I want pity for me, but not for anyone else. I will abuse others in the same way that I accuse others of abusing me.” Henry, who is bald, obese, and effeminate enters next, adding to the general hilarity.
Aaron’s parents visit for Christmas. Bobby buries his lover’s polite, soft-spoken, small-town parents under thousands of pounds of stadium-decibel harangues on gay issues, like a “sex positive Tiny Tim” in a Fifth Avenue Christmas display window. Bobby orders Aaron’s mother, a second-grade teacher, to indoctrinate her students in gay acceptance. He says that when he was a boy, his parents took him to a sex show where he could see, as he puts it, “seven soft penises” and “guys making out” and “talking dirty.” During a sex scene, a man shouted “pound my prostrate” and “Milk me, milk me.” Bobby exposes to Aaron’s parents a secret that Aaron had confided in Bobby alone, a secret he wanted no one else to know. Aaron’s parents display obvious discomfort. Bobby abuses polite people too nice to put him in his place, his lover’s parents, in public, in a restaurant, on Christmas, as everyone around, including diners and wait staff, squirms.
Aaron leaves. Bobby chases him. Bobby, rather than apologizing, screams accusations at Aaron, saying that Aaron is so shallow that he can only appreciate ripped gym rats, not profound but skinny intellectuals like himself. When people tell him to speak with greater sensitivity to others’ feelings, they are victimizing him, Bobby insists.
This was long past the point when I had abandoned any hope that Bros would offer any of the depth, sophistication, humor, or plumbing of the human heart that can be found in a well-done romantic comedy. I felt like I was watching a horror movie, and Bobby was the monster. I don’t like gore in movies, but I would have celebrated had Aaron pulled out a stake and driven it through Bobby’s heart.
I have never hated a character in a movie as much as I hated Bobby. Maybe I disliked Ralph Fiennes as concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List more. Or maybe not. It was the character of Bobby, a joyless, self-pitying, arrogant, destructive, blind narcissist, with an unforgivably ugly voice, that made Bros impossible for me.
Bobby goes home and is shown curling up under a blankie on his couch and crying. Bobby injects steroids, hoping that that will render him more desirable. He picks up a man at the gym and has sex with him, after which he goes home, curls up on the couch under a blankie, and feels sorry for himself some more.
There’s a scene towards the end of Annie Hall. At this point in the movie, Annie (Diane Keaton) has left Alvy (Woody Allen). Their relationship is irretrievably over. In this scene, an actress playing someone like Annie says to an actor playing someone like Alvy, paraphrase, “No, I was wrong. I still love you. Let’s not break up. Let’s remain together.” The scene is Alvy’s fantasy. Annie and Alvy had their moment, and that moment is gone forever.
Bros ends with a similar scene. The difference here is that the scene is not presented as Bobby’s fantasy. Aaron, who is better looking, better employed, and nicer than Bobby, Aaron, who has done nothing wrong, approaches Bobby and apologizes to him. “I know I f—ed up, but please, give me another chance. I miss you so much.”
Bobby, suddenly possessed of the upper hand, sneers at Aaron’s passionate begging. Bobby, again, whines. “Everyone picks on me for being outspoken and intelligent,” he says, paraphrase. He kisses Aaron, and then walks away, saying, “I don’t trust you.”
One method to discern the main character of a work of fiction is “The main character is the one who changes.” Bobby doesn’t change. He was a self-pitying, egotistical, insensitive motormouth at the beginning and at the end of the film. Aaron, a nice guy, built like a romance novel cover model, apologizes to Bobby for being offended by Bobby’s obnoxious behavior. Billy Eichner, script co-author, in Bros’ finale, is not opening the door for gay people; other movies did that long before Eichner. He’s vindicating the worst aspects of his own psyche.
Aaron continues to attempt to lure Bobby back into a relationship. He quits his job and begins creating chocolates. Bobby had urged Aaron to do just that. Aaron had previously mocked Bobby’s LGBTQ+ museum as too full of depressing “Nazi and AIDS history.” Aaron’s chocolates now come in Nazi and AIDS themes: a pink triangle “Silence = Death” box. Bobby didn’t have to do anything to forge a bond with Aaron. Aaron is the one who had to change to satisfy Bobby.
The final thirty minutes of the film are devoted to the film castigating Aaron for telling Bobby to stop being an abusive motormouth. Aaron flagellates himself. Aaron’s brother yells at him. Bobby’s friends tell him that Aaron was wrong. This wallow has nothing to do with gay rights or acceptance and everything to do with Eichner’s mutant ego.
Bobby and Aaron commit to dating for three months, after which they will reassess. Because, you know, gay people don’t need anything as old fashioned as marriage, or exclusivity, or commitment, or romantic comedy conventions.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.