Lack of representation in rom-coms is “f*cked up” says Bros’ director

'Love is love' goes the old saying, but the Bros, from Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller is here to teach you queer romance is different from straight romance

Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in Bros: Nicholas Stoller interview

‘Love is love’ goes the old saying, but the new comedy movie Bros from Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller is here to tell you that love isn’t love. Queer love is different from straight love, and the LGBTQ+ community is tired of pretending that the heteronormative rom-coms we all grew up on are everyone’s story.

The film tells the story of Bobby (Eichner), a proud, if slightly brash, gay man who’s comfortable with his single life. A chance encounter with the attorney Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane) flips Bobby’s life on its head as he slowly becomes what he’s always dreaded, a couple. So far, so rom-com, but Bros is a subversive and refreshing take on the rom-com told from the queer perspective. It’s eye-opening, heartwarming, and the funniest comedy of the year.

Earlier this week, we were lucky enough to talk to Stoller about writing the film with Eichner, its themes of toxic masculinity and the sad fact that queer stories are often not told.

The Digital Fix: I believe that it was you who reached out to Billy about making the first game rom-com. How did that initial conversation go?

Nicholas Stoller: It went great. I mean, I’d worked with him on Bad Neighbours too and then on Friends From College. So I reached out to him about doing this, rom-com, which would be a vehicle for him. He was into the idea and we just kind of just started working on it right away.

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TDF: Was he keen to play the leading role? Or did it take a little bit of convincing to get him to take on Bobby?

NS: Oh, no, He was excited to do it. I think he was nervous because he wanted to make sure it was really good. He really wants everything he does to be of a high quality, particularly the things he writes and creates.

I think he was nervous because he’d never written a movie before. And also, while this movie isn’t autobiographical, it has elements of things that he’s been through.

For all those reasons, he wanted to be really good and was very, very careful about it. But I think he saw the opportunity and had enjoyed collaborating with me and so thought, ‘let’s do this’, you know?

Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in Bros: Nicholas Stoller interview

TDF: You mentioned the spirit of collaboration. Was Billy coaching you on the intricacies of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle while you helped him work through the script?

NS: I mean, that really is kind of how it worked. I’m straight, so he taught me all about gay romance, gay love, the LGBTQ community, his experiences, and his friend’s experiences, you know? Meanwhile, I talked about scripts and structure, as well as how to write a story and develop characters.

[Billy] has very good instincts about [story]. He’s certainly seen a lot of movies, but there were many conversations. Then, in addition to that, I brought my own things. The movie is also about masculinity and toxic masculinity and how men are scared to be vulnerable. I’m a man, and I certainly understand those emotions, so I was able to kind of access the film from that perspective.

Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in Bros: Nicholas Stoller interview

TDF: Let’s talk a little bit about those deeper themes. I’m straight myself, but I was really struck by those ideas of masculinity and the feeling that vulnerability is a weakness. Do you think that’s a universal problem for men?

NS: You know, there are a million specific stories, so I don’t know if it’s universal, but I can certainly relate to it. The way that my kind of masculinity presents itself isn’t by going to the gym and getting massively ripped. It’s through other means, like being successful. I think [being successful] is being masculine, in a crazy way.

I didn’t feel particularly manly when I was struggling and career-wise in a way that’s borderline not totally healthy, you know? So I think that’s the way it presents for me, but I think everyone has a different. I think a lot of men have different versions of it.

In terms of the movie, it was really interesting to get to explore these ideas. I remember early on, Billy said to me something very obvious to me now, but at the time, it was like pretty eye-opening; he said, ‘there’s this misconception that when two gay men date, it’s like two women dating’. And he was like, ‘it’s not. It’s two men bringing all their masculine bullshit to the table’. I instantly got it and was like, ‘oh, that’s really funny’. Like, that’s a really funny idea and also something I totally understood.

Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in Bros: Nicholas Stoller interview

TDF: I was going to ask why it took Hollywood so long to make a queer rom-com, but I think we probably both know the answer to that one, unfortunately. So instead, I’ll ask why do you think, even in this day and age, we’re asking LGBTQ+ people to compromise their identity?

NS: [Sighs] I don’t know. I’ll say this being a straight person making something surrounded by LGBTQ+ people like I was, it has shifted my perspective on the world in a kind of cool way, in a way that I’m always going to be thankful for this movie. Not just in terms of LGBTQ+ stuff, but just seeing the world through a minority perspective a little bit, if that makes sense?

I think that if you are in the majority, it’s hard for you to think I should watch this thing about a minority group. You know, regardless of whoever that minority is, you have to really be convinced to watch the thing, whether it be through reviews, or through word of mouth, or whatever, and that’s a shame.

When I would talk to Billy about this movie, and he’s watched every rom-com, and he would say he had to put himself into straight rom-coms, and it wasn’t ever something I thought about like as a straight guy. As a kid, I would watch When Harry Met Sally or Annie Hall and those movies taught me about love and about how to be in love, you know?

And the idea that there literally wasn’t one for people to watch as a child and teach them about love? That’s fucked up, you know? And that would be a bummer because it is how you learn about this stuff it is.

So Billy and I talked a lot about it in the movie, but to not know how to tell your story because you’ve never seen your story told is not something I thought about before I started working on this movie.

It’s something that Billy, as we worked on it more and more, I was like, ‘oh my god, this is crazy’, that there aren’t more of these films, you know? Because it’s also fun anytime a fresh story puts aside all of that kind of stuff. It’s fun when you tell a fresh story in a comedy that people laugh really hard at because I haven’t seen it before, you know?

Bros is in cinemas in the UK now.