cn: This review makes no attempt to avoid spoilers
Bros is a 2022 gay romcom described as the first movie of its kind to be made by a major studio. It is most certainly not the first movie of its kind in general. I’ve spent quite some time dare I say dumpster diving for gay movies, so I can tell you that the two most common categories are the high school coming out slash romance, and the adult romance. Bros is an example of the latter, and I pleased to say that the mainstreamification did not really compromise the vision of this particular subgenre. It just got a bigger budget, and the acting and writing got a lot more polish. No, the main problems with Bros are problems that are common to its source subgenre, which makes it a great subject for discussion.
The movie is about a romance is between Bobby an out and proud effeminate gay podcaster and LGBTQ museum curator, and Aaron, a ripped jock. To illustrate the interests and issues with the movie, I’ll begin by describing one small arc. At one point, Bobby runs into Aaron giving himself a testosterone injection, apparently to maintain his muscled physique. Bobby questions him, and Aaron says all his friends do it, and it “doesn’t seem to bother you when you’re obsessing over my body”. Bobby says fair enough.
Later, when Bobby is at a low point, convinced that his relationship problems are caused by him not being masc enough to be attractive to Aaron, gets a testosterone injection so he can build his own muscles. In the next scene, he’s at the museum exhibit throwing a violent tantrum until the lesbians pin him to the ground. “I just took steroids, I have roid rage!” he says. Later, all is forgiven, and the testosterone is never mentioned again.
Taking testosterone just to live up to impossible gay body image standards, that’s a form of toxic masculinity. I think the movie thinks that merely depicting the practice suffices as criticism—but in the end there are no consequences, and the arc feels woefully uncritical.
Most of the movie centers on Bobby, the perspective character and most frequent source of conflict. Aside from the violent outbursts (yes, plural), he perpetually monologues people, and frequently insulting and demeaning them for trivial things. With Aaron, Bobby is very needy, and multiple times demands Aaron admit that he doesn’t find Bobby attractive. But while it’s clear that Bobby has insecurity issues, the movie rebuffs the idea that he is to blame for anything.
The third act breakup is precipitated by Bobby meeting Aaron’s parents. Aaron asks Bobby to tone it down a bit, act less like himself—to be clear, this is a major gay faux pas on Aaron’s part, although viewers who are fed up with Bobby may sympathize. In the next scene, Bobby argues with Aaron’s mother and tells her that Aaron hates his life. This causes the breakup, which is resolved when Bobby finally finds it within himself to forgive Aaron, not the other way around. The movie seems to take the perspective that Bobby’s issues can be entirely blamed on external factors, and accountability is only for other people.
Now let’s talk about Aaron. In gay culture, the muscled gay masc jock is a very common object of desire, but it’s commonly thought that there’s something wrong with them, some major drawback. Maybe they’re straight, or “straight”, or closeted. Or they’re out of your league, only interested in ripped masc men like themselves, and probably horribly femmephobic. I’ve heard older gay men say that it used to be a common assumption that these masc men were insufficiently liberated, and would be less “straight-acting” once they overcame their internalized homophobia. Of course, there is another explanation—that masc gay men are interested in fitting gay attractiveness standards rather than straight masculinity standards—but to say so would be to admit fault in gay culture.
The character of Aaron both affirms and refuses the gay jock stereotype. He is comfortably out, and is liberated enough to have frequent threesomes and foursomes. The group sex is played for laughs, but also shows Bobby’s discomfort and jealousy of Aaron’s apparent thing for other similarly ripped men. (IMO Bobby should be opting out of the group sex entirely, since he doesn’t seem to like it, but I digress.) At the same time, Aaron is bound by straight masculinity standards. When he was a kid he wanted to be a chocolatier but thought it was too “faggy”, so now he has the worst imaginable job: a lawyer. Aaron says he likes Bobby because he admires Bobby’s “confidence”, and likes how Bobby “challenges” him.
The character of Aaron is a critique of our love of ripped masc men, but ultimately still an indulgence in that love. He’s a sort of wish fulfillment fantasy, a gay jock without any major drawbacks. And yet he is just a teensy bit unliberated, giving Bobby something to forgive and fix.
I would like to praise one short moment: the one and only media representation I have ever seen of pectus excavatum. I guess they felt the need to explain the chest shape of the lead actor, although I probably wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. I have the other kind of chest deformation, pectus carinatum, and it’s hard to imagine movies ever showing that.
To bring things all together, I think Bros is illustrative of common problems in gay romance movies (that is, the ones by and for gay men). These movies tend to be very personal, to a fault. The main characters often feel like self-inserts, being unlikeable while lacking awareness of their unlikeability. The stories often seem to come from some particular corner of gay culture while lacking awareness or understanding of other parts of gay culture. Other characters—especially ones in conflict with the protagonist or which the protagonist looks down upon—seem to lack internal worlds or sensible motivations, as if the writer has never truly understood the real people behind their characters.
But for all the problems with Bros, I think it is an uncompromisingly gay film. Some audiences may see it as a standard romcom, but to me it seems heavily in conversation with gay concerns. And I was never given anything to complain about in the acting or production values. I recommend it to anyone who is interested to see what this kind of movie is about.