It’s a crushing sight to see the first major-studio gay rom-com flop so publicly. “Bros” (2022) opened to a deeply underwhelming $4.8 million at the box office, cementing its fate as a failure in the public eye. Pundits and commentators alike have theorized on the shortcomings of the film, with creator Billy Eichner himself blaming that proverbial “homophobic weirdo.” So who’s to blame for this tragedy of queer media? The answer may be just about everyone.
For those of you asking why a mainstream gay rom-com would be titled “Bros,” some context may be helpful. The film centers around Bobby Lieber, a queer history podcast host played by screenwriter Billy Eichner. As Bobby mounts preparations to open the first LGBTQ museum in New York, he meets and falls in love with the more masculine, muscly estate attorney Aaron, played by Luke Macfarlane. And, as the rom-com title declares, the two relentlessly fall in and out of love in whims of comedy. The film is a true romance but finds its strength in Eichner’s fresh sense of wit and play. If “Bros” is anything, it’s a laugh riot.
Eichner isn’t exactly wrong in alluding that homophobia is bogging down his film’s viewership. It’s still incredibly difficult to get a queer-centered film off the ground for a mass audience. It was only four months ago that Disney’s “Lightyear” (2022) was banned in fourteen countries for the most fleeting, unnoticeable moment of queer love. Or think back to the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” (2017), which was publicly boycotted by the American Families Association for the mere intimation that Le Fou would be queer. In the age of streaming, we can have successful queer movies on a small scale as big streamers like Netflix don’t need to capture mass appeal; all they need is an incredibly focused microaudience. For these big-budget films, like Disney movies or studio rom-coms, the same conditions do not apply. They need bigger audiences, and time has proven that those audiences run away at the scent of queerness.
On the other hand, much of the film’s failure comes from a poorly executed advertising campaign on behalf of its studio and creators. Eichner commanded that we see the film, for it may not come around again. This is a valiant mission — a big-budget gay romcom is an amazing opportunity, and people should see it for that alone. But, because the basis of the film’s advertising campaign was this statement of ethics and historical importance, it felt more like a demand. Matt Brennan of the Los Angeles Timesphrased it perfectly: “No one wants to support a movie at the point of a bayonet.” By time and again calling out the capital-I “Importance” of this film, the ad campaign lost all the humor of the movie.
The film itself is not perfectly clean either. Eichner, and in turn “Bros” itself, tries to have everything all at once. He wants it to be a rom-com but also spotlight queer history, a jarring transition that often feels mismanaged. The impulse to include queer history is surely a valiant one in being a big-budget film: Eichner wants to spread queer education as far as the eye can see. But it simply doesn’t mesh with the film’s creative direction; the message is lost. There’s also the issue of Eichner’s constant concessions on behalf of his whiteness and his cisgender identity. The film is about two white, cis men falling in love. At just about every moment of the film, Eichner stops to call this out and, in essence, apologize. But why keep apologizing when you could just change it, and not center white cis men? It’s incredibly cringe-inducing to see Eichner’s injected statements of regret.
The greatest tragedy of “Bros” will forever be what it means for the future of queer moviemaking. The film’s creators were constantly spouting that audiences had to come out for “Bros” because it’s possible there won’t be another big-budget queer romance for quite some time. The question remains: Will this become a self-fulfilling prophecy? With an ad campaign asserting that “Bros” would prove the future of queer storytelling, did the film’s poor performance demonstrate that queer love stories cannot make a profit? That’s the dismal residue left behind by “Bros” — the failure of this film could mean the loss of faith in queer stories at large. That’s a deeply scary reality.