.The Trouble With ‘Bros’: You’ve got Grindr!

Mainstream queer cinema has reached a new nadir with the arrival of Billy Eichner’s movie, Bros, and its TV analog, Uncoupled, featuring Neal Patrick Harris, on Netflix. Both of these fictional gay protagonists inhabit a narrow world saturated and defined by social media and online hookups. 

According to the galloping scripts, the phones of gay urbanites are programmed for neverending sexcapades. They share a Grindr joke that’s funny amongst this breed of narcissists—it’s really difficult to take a selfie of your own junk! HBO’s The Other Two (the series premiered in 2019) had already approached the topic of horny gay men on the prowl with both a sharper approach to humans fumbling with desire and storylines that can account for their psychological idiosyncrasies.  

Including the Grindr scenes, from the frantic sexting that may or may not lead to a hookup, is meant to broadcast the idea that consensual sex between promiscuous gay men isn’t shameful. On the contrary, the Grindr app, and its attendant set of 21st century behaviors, has been hailed as a sex-positive breakthrough because it’s featured in Bros, a widely distributed American romcom. Previously, queer folks went through the arduous process of coming out of the closet. Now, the film emphatically states it’s important for the straight world to know how much and how often gay men like to jizz on and with their multiple partners. 

TMI? There’s no such thing as information overload in Bros. Bobby, Eichner’s broadly fictionalized self-portrait, defers to one of his coworkers as they film him in an unflattering light. He flattens his ironic delivery by agreeing that, yes, everything is meant to be posted. The line between a romcom and pornography isn’t blurred because the line no longer exists, except for the absence of anyone’s full frontal. Dick pics in a Hollywood film are still considered sinful, X-Rated.   

To counter or perhaps to complement the culture of readily available sex, the plot of Bros complicates Bobby’s libidinal appetites with a love interest. Out at a dance club with his pals—because it’s de rigeur for all gay men to love to dance to the thump, thump, thump of music at clubs—Bobby’s eyes change into cartoon hearts when he finds that a bare-chested, six-packed, jacked-up Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) is returning his gaze. With this stud’s arrival on screen, Bros suddenly becomes dependent upon Bobby and Aaron’s chemistry, or lack thereof.     

Macfarlane tries to convince the camera that he’s more than a hunk with a porn star’s body. In 75% of the movie, Aaron, a lawyer, must do this without a shirt on. Aaron is delicious eye candy, but the stilted conversations between him and Bobby freeze up both men. More often than not, Aaron looks blankly at Bobby’s expressiveness. He isn’t capable of improvising an unscripted response. As actors, as characters and as people, the two men appear to have nothing in common to talk about apart from their gayness, and Bobby’s ongoing insecurity that his trim but un-muscled body won’t hold Aaron’s interest, affection or attention.   

Bobby is and isn’t in search of love. After striking out at clubs or failing to connect with a new friend-with-benefits online, he hangs out horizontally on his couch watching the ultimate template for romcoms, You’ve Got Mail (1998). But he insists that queer relationships are nothing like heteronormative ones. And with this statement, Eichner steps up on his bully pulpit to establish his place as a spokesperson for the gays. What this worldview cannot accodmodate or fathom is that, actually, some queers indulge in monogamy—and are happy to do so. For all the woke characters in this movie, or Eichner’s attempt at woke writing, gay monogamy is an illusion and an oxymoron. 

When the director Don Roos introduces a gay couple in Happy Endings (2005), he freezes the frame on them to add a pithy, playful, pitying subtitle: They will never have a threeway. Their lack of sexual adventuring suggests something deficient and problematic about their relationship. 

Bros expands on that idea. Queer couples aren’t real in Eichner’s cinematic universe unless they’re pursuing throupledom and arranging orgies. Post-coital gay men suffer from The Seven Second Itch. Eichner’s imagination only extends to his circle of friends and acquaintances on the East (New York City) and West (Hollywood) coasts, where square gay people hollowly imitate breedeers to inhabit a hell called Dullsville.  

Armed wIth its intense powers of reduction, Bros also sneers at the gay cowboy drama Brokeback Mountain (2005) and what it represents. Bobby bats the film away because straight actors played gay characters (Note: Bros is co-written and directed by Nicholas Stoller, a straight man). For Bobby, Ang Lee, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal deprived gay actors of the chance to enact a doomed love story. This is notwithstanding the fact that films are—when they convince—fantasies. 

Even with gay actors starring as the protagonists, Bros suffers in comparison to Lee’s film as an incomplete, tentative and more depressing vision of what contemporary gay life is or ought to be. The movie adopts and assumes a collective “We” voice that is exclusive and that doesn’t, in fact, speak for everyone.   

The object of Bobby’s affection is a Ken doll. Men with average to, dare I suggest it, chubby bodies, don’t rate and don’t show up on his romantic radar screen. When Bobby and Aaron do have sex, it’s less erotic, less titillating and less specific than the sex you see in films and TV shows such as My Beautiful Launderette (1985), Six Feet Under (2001-2005) and God’s Own Country (2017). 

In Hulu’s Difficult People (2015-2017), Eichner had Julie Klausner as a foil. None of Bobby’s friends or coworkers are fleshed out beyond campy quips to correct or antagonize what is essentially his extended monologue. The audience is told to find Bobby sympathetic because he’s a champion of LGBTQ+ history—not because he demonstrates any sympathetic qualities. 

Bros is also niche enough to attract the loudest voices on social media. They’re celebrating a single entry in a genre, the romcom, where there’s a dearth of queer stories. Gay men who are glued to their phones will find the mirroring hilarious and life-affirming; “At last, Eichner’s liberated us from our struggle to be seen.” 

For others in the community who are divorced from the self-important bubble of social media, from posing for and presenting selfies in sunscreen and speedos or in even less than that, our daily routines will remain stubbornly fixed in place. Instead of clubs, gyms and constant erections to tend to, there’s laundry to do, grocery shopping, bills to pay, dogs to walk, and, lastly, a partner for whom to care.

‘Bros’ is now playing in Bay Area theaters.

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