by Steve Desroches
Like many LGBTQ youth, Billy Eichner longed to see some sort of representation of gay people in the world. Nevermind affirmation, but just some acknowledgement that people like him even existed. Sensing this, his supportive parents took him to see Madonna: Truth or Dare in his native New York City. As he sat there in between his parents, a 13-year-old Eichner marveled at seeing so many gay men on screen as well as seeing two men kiss for the first time (Eichner was so inspired he would go on to have a Madonna-themed bar mitzvah). And as a young gay man he made a point to see every small indie LGBTQ-themed movie that popped up during the Gay Nineties and into the new millennium; Jeffrey, The Broken Hearts Club, All Over the Guy, Edge of Seventeen. At the time, quality didn’t matter; it was just such a rarity to see gay stories told at all. But when it came to mainstream movies, LGBTQ characters were often caricatures, villains or victims, and usually a device to make straight people squirm, laugh, or loathe. It’s in part why the movie Bros, co-written, co-produced, as well as starring Eichner, is a remarkable achievement. With this film, Universal Pictures has become the first major Hollywood studio to back a queer-themed film, and the movie stars an all-LGBTQ principal cast. Spoiler alert: no character in the film is obsessed with their straight friend’s wedding, no one’s a vampire, and no one dies! And one of the biggest stars in the film is Provincetown.
In many ways the film is autobiographical, says Eichner. His friend, filmmaker Nicholas Stoller, approached him with the proposal that Eichner should write a gay romantic comedy. That’s the starting point for Bros as Bobby Lieber, portrayed by Eichner, is asked to do the same as “love is love is love,” says the film producer in the film. Bobby, a journalist and newly appointed curator of an LGBTQ museum, passionately declares that’s ridiculous, as gay relationships are different in so many ways.
Written by Eichner and Stoller, who also directed the film, Bros provides a LGBTQ story from a gay perspective and with a big Hollywood budget, giving it both a familiarity and a strikingly unique quality at the same time. As Bobby meets Aaron, portrayed by Luke Macfarlane, a successful, but unfulfilled lawyer, the relationship’s depiction explores the insecurities of the two gay men in their 40s in New York City dealing with issues of masculinity, body image, sex, and love—issues that can be universal, but told specifically through a gay male prism. And as the two characters begin to fall for each other in this rom-com with its heart-in-the-throat emotions as well as hilariously absurd moments, Provincetown was the natural location to shoot Bobby and Aaron’s love affair.
“As we were working on the script when Bobby and Aaron fall in love I said, ‘They need to go to Provincetown,’” says Eichner, who’s been visiting Provincetown for 20 years. “It’s part of keeping it authentic. Provincetown is so many things. It can be sexy and dirty, it can be fun, it can be romantic. It’s the art and culture. And it’s just so beautiful; it’s cinematic in its beauty. Plus, it’s such an important place to LGBTQ people and our history. It’s just so many things. It’s in many ways all that the movie is.”
Filmed here in June of 2021, Bros is both a love letter to Provincetown and a playful mirror as the whole film lampoons LGBTQ culture and life from within as well as the pressures from a hetero-dominated society. Harvey Fierstein as a loveable, yet handsy, guest house owner and Bowen Yang as an obnoxious, yet hilarious, nouveau-riche gay philanthropist with a hatred for his neighbor’s shrubbery gives a particularly funny local appeal. The almost all-LGBTQ cast is what gives Bros an added authenticity as it also features actors like Amanda Bearse, Ts Madison, Dot-Marie Jones, Miss Lawrence, Jim Rash ,with riotous cameos by Kristin Chenoweth and Debra Messing as the two sole straight actors in the movie. All the cast, throughout their careers, have encountered homophobia or transphobia in Hollywood, which makes the casting all the more important as well as grounded. Perhaps what makes Bros pioneering is its depictions of sex between men. Uncompromising and unashamed, the sex scenes in the movie are everything from awkward to intense to passionate to hilarious, sometimes involving more than two people or outside the relationship; everything a sex life often can be, again told via a gay male cultural viewpoint. But in the past such depictions usually end up on the cutting room floor or slapped with an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, which has a past riddled with homophobia. The rating system didn’t ask for a thing to be cut to get an R rating and big Hollywood money, managed by producer Judd Apatow, didn’t flinch either.
“I knew it was important to include it,” says Eichner, who’s already at work on a biopic about Paul Lynde called Man in the Box. “I think sex is funny, it’s romantic, it’s hot and it can all change depending where you are in a relationship. I wanted to depict it honestly. And if Sacha Baron Cohen can roll around naked with a man, why can’t I? Sex between the two main characters evolves. I never once heard from the studio to change a thing. I never got one note. Over the past 20 years I’ve heard all kinds of things, but making this movie I never once heard to tone anything down from the studio.”
Bros opens in theaters nationwide on September 30, including in Provincetown at Waters Edge Cinema, Whaler’s Wharf, 237 Commercial St., 2nd Fl. For specific dates and showtimes visit provincetownfilm.org or call 508.413.9369. For the box office call 508.487.3456