In my most recent article A Shift and its Barriers: The Little Mermaid, I discussed the difficult journey that progressive ideas in modern media continue to undergo, and how they still seem to enjoy overall success. Whether on the big or small screen, children are being exposed to a much wider range of characters, narratives, and representation, which involves them in a climate of inclusion that their predecessors have not quite experienced. The newest and currently most relevant barrier to progressive media took place in a much more “adult” sector-a mature romantic comedy. While the film was expected to kick off a new, much more inclusive segment of romance movies, last week’s release of Bros ultimately delivered disappointing results at the box office.
The film stars Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner, both gay actors playing gay men in the film. The film also includes various other gay and trans actors among its roster, being helmed as a movie produced by the LGBTQ community for everyone. With the number of Americans that identify as part of the LGBTQ community substantially increasing every year, and the growing number of celebrities and influencers that identify as queer, it was expected that the film would serve as new representation for an especially underserved demographic and would appeal to those not in the community in the ways any other romantic comedy would. The casting of many comedic actors, including Eichner himself, was expected to garner laughs from those that the representation didn’t necessarily speak to, and instill some pride in those that it did.
At the same time, Eichner, being the large social media presence that he is, acknowledged multiple times through Twitter that the film was going to face backlash. In short, he discussed through multiple posts the reality of a large portion of the United States consisting of very socially conservative people, with many of them not even approving of a queer lifestyle, much less watching a movie about it. Still, he and his fellow cast and producers were hopeful that the more progressively minded coastal audiences could make up for this gap. He even shared the experience of him sitting in on the movie without the audience knowing, and happily watching them laugh and cry throughout the entire film.
The movie certainly did find a degree of popularity in these regions. On top of overall expected audience approval, review scores from sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Cinemascore rated the film incredibly well, with many critics regarding the film as one of the best romantic comedies in years. Nevertheless, the numbers indeed did not live up to expectations. Though the creators of the film hoped to make $8-10 million in its opening weekend, the movie only garnered just over $4 million. It performed at the low level expected in conservative states, and even underperformed in coastal states, despite the many positive screenings giving the creators hope.
Eichner took to social media in response to the underwhelming popularity of the film and blasted many critics and no-shows as homophobic. Whether you agree with his exact statements or not is incredibly subjective, but the immediate plummet in success for such a promising new direction in storytelling is nothing short of a disappointment.
The reality that a film starring a queer couple, with a very similar story as straight couples have shown in romantic comedies for decades, will inevitably face failure simply due to the nature of the relationship shown, is discouraging and unfortunate. Bad reviews toward the film that are reflective of the nature of the film itself, or specific components of its craftsmanship would be one thing, but outright disregard based on immediate, shallow judgement toward the actors and the characters they play shows just how far away achievement of full inclusion really is.
While this post is not meant to be discouraging and should not serve as a contradiction of my recent post that spelled out the hope there still is when trying to move stories forward, it should certainly serve as a wake-up call that the work of progressive media is far from done. Hopefully time is a factor in fixing this, but it is just as likely up to viewers themselves to decide whether they want to be a part of new and exciting stories or stuck in past, repetitive narratives.