‘Bros’ box office problem due to genre conservatism, not audiences

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Billy Eichner’s tweets explaining why his gay romantic comedy, Brothersbombed at the box office continues to raise eyebrows, not least because it blamed homophobia for the disappointing ratings.

Brothers opened in fourth place last weekend, behind a new horror film Smile and two reports don’t worry darling and The female king. The result prompted Eichner—Brothers‘ star and co-writer – to spark a series of tweets about it on Sunday.

“It’s just the world we live in, unfortunately. Even with rave reviews, excellent Rotten Tomatoes scores, an A CinemaScore, etc., straight people, especially in some parts of the country, haven’t quite just not featured for Bros,” Eichner wrote.

Continuing to share his thoughts on the microblogging platform, he added, “Anyone who IS NOT a homophobic weirdo should check out BROS tonight! You’re in for a treat!”

Billy Eichner is pictured left on June 05, 2022 in Santa Monica, California. He is pictured inset on April 27, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Eichner claimed the poor performance of his new romantic comedy was due to homophobia.
Amy Sussman/Getty Images;/Gabe Ginsberg/WireImage

However, Damon Young, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley Department of Film and Media, said Newsweek that the film’s dismal $4.8 million ticket sales might have more to do with the limitations of the genre.

While Young agreed that audience reluctance may have played a role in the film’s performance, Brothers facing some sort of tug of war in its own chosen format.

“Eichner blames homophobia for the film’s poor box office performance, and that could be a part of it,” Young said. “It’s true that the movie did better in major metropolitan cities that have larger gay populations…He’s probably right that Central America isn’t keen on a gay rom-com. But should she be?

“To me, the film shows the limits of the genre’s abilities and its imagination. Despite its celebration of alternative forms of relationship, it ultimately has to replicate the same formula, and no amount of self-referential wink can undo this fundamental conservatism.

“I certainly agree with Eichner that despite a huge increase in the portrayal of LBGTQ characters and stories in mainstream media, especially television, homophobia remains entrenched in cultures. American (and other patriarchal) I don’t know if that fully explains why Brothers didn’t land its opening weekend as the producers hoped.”

Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane at "Brothers" first
Billy Eichner and co-star Luke Macfarlane are pictured at the ‘Bros’ premiere on September 28, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

Young, whose areas of expertise include gender and sexuality studies, points out that there are certainly elements of Brothers it makes for good viewing, although he cautions that the film “isn’t as progressive as it makes it out to be”.

“Obviously box office success is not a measure of how good a movie is or how important it is,” he explained. “The film is funny and clever at times, and bold in the way it portrays aspects of traditional gay life (like the experience of using Grindr) that haven’t been portrayed in Hollywood movies.

“It’s also true that he symbolizes his trans and non-white characters as ‘best friends’ and reduces them to sort of caricatures. Insofar as he focuses on wealthy, urban, gay white men, Brothers is not as progressive as it keeps claiming to be, and despite its obsession with correcting the record on gay history, it is not always accurate in its facts.

“For example, the premise that the LGBTQ history museum he is opening in New York is the first of its kind is fallacious – there has been such a museum in San Francisco since 2011. The fact that the central character constantly moralizes and lectures everyone he comes in contact with (and the public) is both off-putting and somewhat hypocritical.”

In his analysis of Brothers‘ box office performance, The Hollywood Reporter said if Amy Schumer’s 2015 R-rated romantic comedy Rail accident raked in an impressive $30 million in its opening weekend, “comedy has been on a downward trend in terms of getting audiences to come to the theater to watch”.

Noting this, Young said Newsweek that, moreover, “romantic comedy is largely a star genre (Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, and soon, George Clooney, Julia Roberts). There are no big stars in Brothers.”

Young added that the critical acclaim and positive audience reactions to films such as Moonlight (2016) and call me by your name (2017) “shows that films about same-sex love can do well at the box office, a trend that began with the resounding success of Brokeback Mountain in 2004.

“But these are all solemn dramas about impossible or tragic love. Brothers is a witty romantic comedy, and everyone ends up happy. The other mode of success for queer films has been outrageous comedies like The bird cage (1996), or movies with drag like TThe Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994).

“Perhaps the general public is quicker to embrace gay characters in drag, farce, or doomed love or death stories, than they are the kind of normative, everyday characters that populate romantic comedy. .”

“I think the question is, why a gay romantic comedy?” Young guessed. “It’s not an interesting genre, and we should leave that to heterosexuals, who, as someone in the film remarks, ‘got away with it’.”

Newsweek contacted Eichner representatives for comment.

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