'Bros' Was Set Up to Fail

A baffling marketing campaign pitched it as homework for straight people — somehow it didn't work.

US actor Billy Eichner arrives for the premiere of Universal Pictures's "Bros" at Regal LA Live in L...
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Billy Eichner, the first gay man ever to have an AMC Stubs membership, is screaming at us again. But unlike his beloved Billy on the Street persona, he’s doing it in a way that’s devoid of any humor, irony, or self awareness.

In a scathing tweet thread responding to the lackluster box office earnings for his landmark new gay podcaster movie BROS, Eichner blames “straight people, especially in certain parts of the country” for not supporting the grassroots activist effort to get asses in seats for a romcom distributed by Universal Studios during a never-ending global pandemic.

The movie only made back a (deeply homophobic) $4.8 million during its opening weekend on its $22 million budget, according to Variety. Despite this lowballing, Variety reports “glowing reviews” and good word-of-mouth reports on the film, nevertheless. Eichner himself snuck into a screening in Los Angeles, one of over 3,000 screens nationwide, and witnessed an audience howling with laughter and “wiping away tears as they walked out.”

I want to apologize directly to Billy: I grew up in Illinois, textbook BROS-boycotting flyover country despite our affiliation with the first gay president Abraham Lincoln. I’m straight (though the good kind of straight who listens to a lot of gay podcasts about books and stans Florence Pugh) — and I didn’t see the film this weekend. I could blame the rain or the world premiere of Hocus Pocus 2 on Disney+, but I need to take accountability here. I’m sorry. I’ll do better. I swear, I’ll get around to it, eventually. I just wasn’t all that compelled by the jokes in the trailer about Dumbledore and basic people liking The Office.

I know Billy’s not looking for feedback, especially not from someone like me, but I do feel compelled to note one thing: the marketing effort on this thing was baffling. What is this movie about? Should this not have been released in the summer? October is for horror fans and for the final fumes of the Don’t Worry Darling press tour.

More things I’m confused by:

I don’t understand why the movie poster looks like a gay parody of Bruce Springsteen’s album cover for Born in the USA, an anti-Vietnam War protest anthem that’s suffered from context collapse and is now a pre-game song for any number of themed straight binge drinking events. If the movie is being sold as a breakout vehicle for Eichner — allegedly a longtime fan favorite who counts the likes of Mariah Carey as supporters — why is his face not on the poster?

And what is this movie about? Using contextual clues from the film’s two taglines (“a romantic comedy that will give you all the feels” and “a bro meets bro love story”) and the trailer, I think it’s about a henley-wearing curmudgeon who gets a once-in-a-lifetime promotion, transforming from a humble gay podcaster to a rock star docent at a Sirius XM-branded pop-up museum. Then, his life gets turned upside down when he meets a guy in half a baseball uniform.

One thing that has made movies in the Apatow Extended Universe so successful is their straightforward (and straightforwardly funny) premises that are immediately recognizable in their titles, posters, and trailers. I can immediately tell you what Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Forgetting Sarah Marshall is about. (The same can be said for recent comedy hits starring people other than straight men, like Trainwreck, Bridesmaids, Girls Trip, or Spy.) All I know about Bros is that, per Eichner’s plea at the VMAs, it is my duty to see it to stick it to Clarence Thomas.

The social media advertising for the film is even more baffling. Why did I get this promoted tweet in my timeline over a month before the movie premiered asking me to “select the…bro who will never break your heart” and then showing me profile pictures of six characters I’ve never met, seven if you include the Pomeranian hanging out with Bowen Yang?

And what does this mean?

I will see BROS in theaters, and maybe even laugh and learn and weep at it, but it’s not on the strength of either the studio’s befuddling marketing campaign or Eichner’s rhetorical pleading.

Straight people should go see BROS, but doing so is not going to save queer cinema, just as not seeing it is not a hate crime. One surefire way to ruin something that otherwise looks like fun is to make it seem like homework.