With “Bros,” Billy Eichner is taking a hatchet to the bumper-sticker slogan of #LoveisLove.
The film (streaming on Peacock) stars the actor-comedian, known for "Billy on the Street" and "Parks and Recreation," and Luke Macfarlane and marks the first romantic comedy from a major studio centering on two gay men. Eichner and Macfarlane play Bobby Leiber and Aaron Shepard, a pair of “emotionally unavailable” men who gracelessly find themselves in a whirlwind romance after a chance meeting at a nightclub.
For Eichner, 44, who co-produced “Bros” with Judd Apatow, the film was an opportunity to dismantle “oversimplified” perceptions of LGBTQ+ relationships, while also breaking new ground with a decidedly queer mainstream rom-com.
“We’re seeing a romantic comedy that contains elements of the rom-coms that we all know and love but from a unique perspective,” Eichner says. “(Viewers) are getting all the laugh-out-loud moments of a Judd Apatow movie that they expect, the jokes and the physical comedy, but they’re also getting a peek behind the curtain at gay culture that you might think you know from a handful of sitcom characters you’ve seen on TV, but you don’t really know.”
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'Bros' reimagines the rom-com with 'messy' LGBTQ+ representation
From “When Harry Met Sally ...” to “Bridesmaids,” the romantic comedy is far from a cinematic frontier. So it was the top priority for Eichner, who co-wrote "Bros" with director Nicholas Stoller, to bring some freshness by way of authentic LGBTQ+ representation.
“It was important to Billy to accurately portray his community and some of the dating rituals that we haven’t seen in mainstream comedies before,” Apatow says.
Bobby and Aaron flirt with the trappings of monogamy, set to a backdrop of NSFW selfies, casual group sex and indiscriminate steroid injections. An entirely LGBTQ+ main cast helps round out the unmistakable queerness of these men's lives.
“We don’t get many multidimensional gay characters,” Eichner says. “We’re often on the sidelines as the best friend or the wacky neighbor, but we’ve rarely been offered the opportunity in a production of this scale ... to be much more than that.”
He added: “Comedy was definitely the goal here, but it was also important for me to show these characters at the center of the story: that we are messy, multidimensional, complicated people like any other human beings.”
Queering the rom-com also entailed embracing the diversity of LGBTQ+ romance, Macfarlane says.
“Our love stories are a little bit different,” Macfarlane says. “And yes, on some level ‘love is love,’ but we also have to pay homage to how our love is different first. So, it’s almost like the first step to understanding us.”
'Bros' wrestles with 'strange pedestal' of masculinity
Manliness is next to godliness for Bobby and Aaron, as each struggles to live up to rigid images of masculinity in their personal lives.
Throughout the film, Bobby is plagued by the insecurity that Aaron isn't truly attracted to him because he doesn't embody the muscly Adonis type often glorified in gay culture. Meanwhile, Aaron is trapped in an unsatisfying career as a probate lawyer because he views his culinary passion as too feminine.
“So much of Aaron’s journey is realizing that the façade that he built, based on a lot of culturally understood ideas of masculinity, are getting in his way from falling in love,” Macfarlane says. “Aaron’s armor is looking a certain way, being successful in a certain kind of career space, his body, the gym. But to really fall in love with somebody, you have to put that all aside.”
Eichner says this strain under gender norms is not only relevant to queer men of an older generation but also speaks to the “strange pedestal” masculinity is placed on in media, sports and social apps.
“Everyone’s showing off their bodies and their workout routines, and as much as we all talk about self-love and being comfortable in your body no matter what shape or size you are, there’s still a fascination with this alpha-male ideal,” Eichner says.
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'Bros' embraces queer intimacy: 'Sex is part of life'
“Bros” also takes a no-holds-barred approach to its depiction of queer sex, which Eichner says was “an organic part of the story.”
“Sex is part of life, part of dating and part of romance, and in terms of it being two men, I personally don’t think it’s a big deal in 2022,” Eichner says. “If it’s a little shocking to people, great, but I think that that’s actually part of the fun, to be a little provocative.”
Such intimacy provides another layer in showcasing the uniqueness of LGBTQ+ life.
“It’s fun for straight audiences to see the ways that straight relationships and gay relationships are similar and do overlap, and it’s also exciting, fun and fascinating to see the ways in which they differ,” Eichner says. “The issues we face are different; our lifestyles can be different. That’s interesting and something worth celebrating, instead of trying to paint us all in the same broad strokes.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Bros': Billy Eichner's rom-com tackles LGBTQ+ love, gender norms