You’ve Got Mail is among the few straight-skewing pop-culture selections referenced in Bros that is not skewered by star / co-writer Billy Eichner. (The film may not be the first major studio-funded LGBTQ romantic comedy but is the first to so prominently feature LGBTQ performers in its principal cast.) A quarter-century ago, in movies like You’ve Got Mail (the worst Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan collab, FWIW), Eichner would have played the Gay Best Friend — the sassy, socially “exotic” sage that a schlub like Hanks would call upon to soothe his sadness with some snappy patter. Thankfully, Eichner is one of the romantic leads in Bros.
Bobby is a proudly single podcaster / historian in New York who has become the executive director of an LGBTQ+ history museum (whose opinionated board of directors, made up of equal representation and portrayed by Dot-Marie Jones, Eve Lindley, Ts Madison, Miss Lawrence and Jim Rash, generates considerable laughs). As Bobby says, you can cobble together a facsimile of a romantic life through weird sex with strangers you don’t like (the passion of one encounter a shade hotter than a Facebook Marketplace transaction) and conversations with friends you love but with whom you never want to have sex.
At a launch party to celebrate a new gay-dating app, Bobby strikes an unexpected conversation with Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), a buff lawyer who’s languishing in a lucrative, but humdrum, practice where he settles the estates of people about to die. (One of them has $100,000 to leave and no one in his life, so he chooses Cher.) Aaron’s preferred cultural offerings (The Hangover, Garth Brooks, Friends) give Bobby the fits, and Aaron simply disappears, ninja-style, from their chat when he feels uncomfortable (which, with Bobby, can happen often). But they start texting each other, seeing each other and, eventually, consider an emotional connection that’s bigger — and certainly more terrifying — than either of them has ever enjoyed with someone else.
Mercifully, the only thing Bros shares in common with You’ve Got Mail is that it’s about a reel too long; being a Judd Apatow production, that’s a baseline expectation upon buying a ticket. That’s because Eichner is not so oblivious to believe that romcom obstacles can be as obvious as they were in the Hanks-Ryan era. Are there old flames and family squabbles that surface in Bros? Yes, but Eichner employs them as a tipped cap to tradition rather than a lazy crutch. Instead, he creates complications for Bobby and Aaron’s courtship through where they diverge in culture, confidence and comfort with their identities as gay men. Eichner and Macfarlane also create chemistry as choppy as it is charged, with a hem-and-haw hesitancy to hurtle forward that always feels authentic.
Aaron doesn’t see himself in any of the elaborate exhibits Bobby is planning for the museum and dovetails his own depression and disappointment with where life has taken him onto the potential of their positive experience together. Meanwhile, Bobby struggles with casting aside the sort of comfortable solitude that simply becomes tougher to take later in life. (Bobby and Aaron are both fortysomethings, which lends heft to the ways in which their loneliness has them feeling like this first chance might be their last chance.)
And while Eichner softens his signature rat-a-tat salvo of pop-culture screeds (while still putting Schitt’s Creek, Bohemian Rhapsody and, of course, Brokeback Mountain under fire), he re-imagines his inherently intimidating ideology as a wedge in Bobby and Aaron’s romance. Eichner also deconstructs the more vehemently projected aspects of Bobby’s personality in a powerful monologue where he confronts his “confidence” as a mythical power he somehow possesses. It’s a linchpin scene for Aaron, Bobby, their relationship and the movie itself, and Eichner nails it.
Bros also boasts a big share of laugh-aloud moments, culled from creatively inspired cameos, suggestions about perhaps not-so-secretly gay historical figures, the perils and pitfalls of pretending to be someone you aren’t in the LGBTQ+ community, and the proper dose of Bowen Yang as a mercurial millionaire whom Bobby is courting as a major donor. Like most films from director Nicholas Stoller (who co-wrote with Eichner), Bros chooses scene-based shagginess over a cumulative comic shape. But at least this one, unlike Forgetting Sarah Marshall, has actual characters, believable anxieties and, frankly, a better musical number that closes things out. Mainstream romcoms are ailing, but Bros represents a smart, sharp shot in the arm they need.