Saturday, November 26, 2022
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The Accidental Turitz: We All Failed Billy Eichner and Bros, Not Just Straight People

A few weeks ago, over at Below the Line, I wrote about how Zack Snyder’s cult of fans had wasted a lot of their time review bombing Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong several years back in some misguided attempt to attack Warner Bros. for not giving them the Snyder Cut of Justice League like they demanded. I’ve written enough about that and them for now, but the unfortunate tactic these lamentable folks decided to use is very much still in action, and it’s beyond pathetic.

Got too much time on your hands? Got a bigoted bone to pick? Afraid of some gay people getting the chance to see themselves on the big screen? Why, here’s your answer: post a bunch of one-star reviews of the movie on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes before it even comes out! That’ll show ‘em! And maybe it’ll stop the movie from even coming out at all! And those LGBTQ+ folks can all go straight to hell, where they belong!

On the one hand, it’s sort of hard to believe that this kind of sophomoric and frankly hateful behavior is still so rampant and that even in this day and age, people would continue to be so unsophisticated as to attack a piece of entertainment because it somehow makes them uncomfortable. On the other hand, of course, I do live in 2022 and pay attention to what’s happening both in this country and the world at large, so in that sense, it’s hardly surprising at all.

The door has been opened, the vitriol unleashed, and the intense hatred and bigotry for The Other have never been more out in the open than it is now. It used to be taboo to express those kinds of hateful thoughts in public, but no more. Now, people pride themselves on it. Entire careers are built on hate. Heck, sometimes it’s the best way to escape blame, as racism/homophobia/Islamophobia provides an easy scapegoat for the personal shortcomings of cis white men and religious fanatics, many of whom are busy making villains of people who are just trying to live their lives.

I know that bigots come in all forms, as evidenced by Gabrielle Union‘s upcoming turn in the A24 drama The Inspection, but I just don’t know why people, whether they’re white, straight, or straight white people, feel so threatened by The Other. That fear simply exists in their own heads. It isn’t real. Because there is more than enough to go around, and we could all thrive together if we didn’t spend so much time creating division among ourselves.

But I digress…

Fire Island
Fire Island image via Searchlight Pictures

I was a big fan of Joel Kim Booster and Andrew Ahn‘s Fire Island when I saw it on Hulu, and an even bigger fan of Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller’s new comedy Bros, which I saw over the weekend. The two movies have a lot in common, and not just because they’re both gay-themed romantic comedies that feature SNL‘s Bowen Yang. They also got review-bombed by haters who have somehow convinced themselves that they are actually not completely pathetic losers who have nothing better to do than actively hurt others.

And make no mistake, this could very well hurt others — the gay community, to be clear, as people may see that low audience score and not know about the review bombing, so they would just assume it’s legit and that no one likes the movie — which couldn’t be further from the truth — and then decide not to see it in theaters, which leads to low grosses that studios later point to when they pass on the next queer rom-com they’re pitched.

There’s something else that Fire Island and Bros have in common, too, of course, and it’s even more important than the LGBTQ milestones they may or may not represent. The two films aren’t just good gay romantic comedies, they’re both good movies, period. No other qualifiers are needed. I would go so far as to argue that Bros is one of the best romantic comedies of the last decade or so, certainly the best one I’ve seen since maybe The Big Sick, and that was five years ago. It’s smart and hilarious, heartfelt, genuinely romantic, and made me happy to actually be in love. It hits all the right notes for a movie like that — it just so happens that it’s about two men, rather than a man and a woman.

That this is an issue at all is worrisome in and of itself, but the truth of the matter is that movies are about people of all walks of life, cultures, sexual orientations, and so on. It shouldn’t be anything close to revolutionary to make a movie like Bros, which employs and exploits classic genre tropes but does it with gay men instead of a hetero couple, and yet, that seems to be precisely the situation.

I think the question I keep coming back to is, “Why?” I mean, isn’t this the way it should be? If a movie tells a fun and engaging love story that makes us laugh and care about the characters, why should we care what gender these characters are? Why should we care who they love, be it a man, woman, or someone who’s nonbinary, as long as we care about them at all? That is the whole point… isn’t it?

Bros movie
Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in Bros/Universal

Unfortunately, Hollywood is a business — a unique one, in many ways, but one that operates much like any other business. And Bros did terrible business over the weekend, failing to clear $5 million. That’s not good, even in this post-Covid age where box office expectations have been lowered because not as many people go to the theater anymore. And by “people,” we must mean straight people, who are obviously so turned off by the idea of a gay love story that they deserve to be solely blamed for this box office catastrophe.

Right?

Well, that and the fact that Bros feels a perfect summer movie that, for some reason, was released in the fall.

But then, why did Brokeback Mountain clear $83 million domestically and almost $180 million worldwide 17 years ago? Sure, it had the air of a prestige picture and went on to win three Oscars, but then again, it was also a drama. When it comes to a romantic comedy, that’s strictly between a man and a woman, and seeing two men kiss and have sex while also trying to make us laugh would just be gross to too many people.

Right?

If this line of thinking seems ridiculous, well, that’s because… it is! Sadly, however, I do think the underperformance Bros can be chalked up to casual homophobia, though had Eichner’s own community turned out in full force, the numbers would’ve surely improved, indicating that the comedy failed to connect with either straight or gay audiences.

And listen, that issue is what it is, and no shift in marketing strategy could overcome such a hurdle. I just worry that the next time someone wants to make a movie about gay people, the underperformance of Bros will be thrown in their face as an example of why it won’t work.

Bros movie
Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in Bros/Universal

“Straight people don’t like to see comedies about men kissing other men,” they’ll say, and point to the lack of box office here confirming that suspicion. In a basic sense, they won’t be wrong, but they’ll also be missing the point. As a cisgender, heterosexual white guy, I can safely say I have no interest in only seeing movies about people like me. The fact that not enough people felt motivated this weekend to get out there and see Bros — which is a wonderful and groundbreaking piece of entertainment — means that we’re only going to get more of the same. That kind of creative homogeny isn’t good for anyone who appreciates good, challenging cinema.

When the dust settled on Bros‘ opening weekend, Eichner was asked why he thought the movie didn’t do the kind of business that even conservative industry analysts were hoping for.

“Straight people didn’t show up,” he said… and he’s right, to an extent. Shame on us for that.

But when a movie fails to crack $5 million, it indicates a larger problem, whether it was the film’s lack of major stars (Trainwreck‘s Amy Schumer and The King of Staten Island‘s Pete Davidson were surrounded by well-known supporting casts), or its awkward release date, which saw it run up against the sleeper hit Smile — though I suspect history will give the talented Eichner the last laugh when all is said and done. He’ll survive this blow and I’m willing to bet that Bros finds its audience when it begins streaming, where the rom-com genre has thrived of late.

We’ll see if that’s how it goes when it comes to Bros.


Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for more than 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.

You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.

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