Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2022 8:25 pm 
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Radically conventional: a mainstream gay sex comedy

Nicholas Stoller produced some appealingly warmhearted comedies at the outset of his career as a director, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek . He lost me a bit with Neighbors (Zach Efron), but they all had a Judd Apatow flavor at a time when Judd was cock of the Hollywood comedy walk. They featured some of the most appealing "Freaks and Geeks" graduates. Mr. Apatow has also produced Bros. But Bros is something different - and something new: the first big-studio R-rated gay rom-com. Is it mainstream? Well, it pushes the boundaries on that. But comedy regularly pushes boundaries. A gay, mainstream - or is it mainstream, gay? - romantic comedy, has to be a milestone, if straight people go out to see it. It has had some trouble attracting audiences "in some parts of the country," some of the sex scenes are pretty explicit, and some theaters have pulled the trailer.

The important thing here is that all the actors are gay, or rather LGBTQ+. That's the other milestone. One of the main characters - tall, wired, powerful New York Jewish gay bottom Bobby (Billy Eichner, The Angry Birds Movie, The Lion King and Neighbors 2), and hunky, ripped, "bro," type Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) - takes a snipe at "straight movie actors playing gay cowboys." But I have to point out that Brokeback Mountain, in which straight actors play gay cowboys, is one of the most moving films of the decade, and also the great tragic romantic love story that gay men had been longing for. It's also based on a work of literature , one of A. Annie Proulx''s finest stories. Nonetheless it is significant that everyone in 'Bros' is gay, or LGBTQ+. That's cool. But it doesn't invalidate every film about gay experience in which straight actors were cast. That's what actors do, they impersonate characters different from themselves.

This movie never lets us forget "LGBTQ+:" it hits it in a very obvious way. Bobby is head of the board of an upcoming LGBTQ+ museum, no less. Meetings including rest of the board provide the opportunity for this predominantly "cis male" white romance of two gay men to name-check other identities or persuasions, such as lesbian, bisexual, and trans both black and white. This is a complication that, years ago, would not have needed to be asserted. It's good that now it is, but this movie strains itself in its effort to be fully and correctly representative, as everybody does nowadays. Bros has a self-conscious, almost preachy side. And yet ironically its mainstream aspects are bound to offend or disappoint some part of the "queer" community. Does political correctness need to invade mainstream cinema?

Bobby and Aaron are both uneasy with commitment and not looking for "dating," much less the dreaded "long-term relationship." They are an odd match. Bobby is hyper-intellectual and hyper-articulate. He's not really a wimp at all, but aggressive and a leader. He's strongly attracted by, but sees himself as unsuited to, Aaron, who's very much a "bro," surely a gym bunny with those abs and pecs and arms and shoulders: both think themselves somehow unworthy of the other's level of accomplishment. Aaron doesn't think himself smart enough or confident enough for Bobby. Bobby is convinced Aaron longs for other ripped "bro"-ish hunks like himself he sometimes sees him eying.

Aaron is no lifeguard or golf course attendant: he's a lawyer, specialized in estate planning. But his secret - spoiler alert - is that he's frustrated. He finds planning for people's deaths depressing and has, since childhood, wanted nothing more than to manufacture boutique chocolates, packed in little boxes with bows. Of course the two men will give up on each other multiple times and, at the end, in a grand public scene, come together in front of a crowd - attending the opening of the LGBTQ+ museum, with its climactic amusement park-style horror show thrill ride. And, in an utterly conventional climax, Bobby will serenade Aaron, no less, and then, to the applause of the crowd, rush down off the podium to kiss Aaron, to further applause.

The movie was very funny in the early segments, riffing satirically off various deformations and ironies of gay experience. It's a triumph if the comical gay group sex (also "cis" male, white) sequences actually succeed in seeming funny to a mainstream audience. What went wrong? I think one trouble is that the romance isn't that interesting - though that's not uncommon in rom-coms: you just have to like the leads. Luke Macfarlane is very appealing. Billy Eichner, who is also the co-author of the screenplay is, well, intense. He convincingly represents the kind of person who can't keep his mouth shut or downplay his strong opinions - such as that kids in school ought to be introduced to homosexuality at the age of two, an idea that Aaron's mother (Amanda Bearse)), who teaches small children, isn't yet ready for. Discomfort results. Bobby seems to have ruined the meet-the-boyfriend dinner. Aaron blames him for going too far; Bobby blames Aaron for coaching him to stifle himself. There is some confusion here. Aaron actually loves Bobby's intellectual passion and commitment. But Bobby actually can be a pain. In fact he mostly is. The Wall Street Journal's Kyle Smith, who (as cited on Metacritic) distances himself from the generally favorable critics, says "Comedies about jerks work only if they're funny, and Bros isn't." Ouch. I'd say the movie is definitely funniest before we find out what a gratingly intense person Bobby is.

Some scenes of this movie are amusing depictions of gay culture, especially the big gay bar meet-up between Bobby and Aaron, and their check-in at a B&B in Provincetown where the host is raspy-voiced gay icon Harvey Fierstein. One of the best moments - perhaps because it slips free of the movie's themes - is one where Bobby goes along with Aaron to pitch a gay billionaire in Provincetown and finds the rich guy's weak spot.

This is not a brilliant comedy or a particularly touching one, but sometimes being a milestone is enough.

Bros, 115 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 9, 2022, also showing at Human and Zurich. Its US theatrical release began Sept. 30. Metacritic rating: 77%

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