Scrutinizing every glimpse of representation, hoping to see our reflection

Bros and the quest for the perfect gay movie: an equally neurotic critic

When critics called out Matthew Lopez’s “The Inheritance” in its London iteration as not being inclusive enough, my response was: “a work of art is never meant to be everything to anybody”.

I should eat my own dog food. Am I criticizing “Bros” for what it intends to be — a groundbreaking gay romantic comedy from a major studio played by an LGBTQ+ cast — or as some be-all, end-all representation of the middle-age gay experience which it never wanted to be.

I will share here my understanding that gay representation on-screen is a tricky — almost impossible — exercise. Those that are used to constantly making sense of their lives through cultural representation, will never understand what it meant for us to grow up unrepresented. Observing is what allows human beings to dream their child’s life forward. Without reference points, LGBTQ+ people remained for the longest time blind children making their way through a maze. Some did find their way, most didn’t.

It also leaves some of us scrutinizing every glimpse of representation hoping to recognize ourselves, make sense of our experience and build a path forward.

To be honest, I enjoyed “Bros”. I found Bobby’s quest for intimacy in all the wrong places relatable. I (obviously) empathized with his anger which he expresses perfectly in what might be my favorite part of the movie: his monologue in Provincetown. And I enjoyed the obscure references to early gay culture and the delicate way the movie dealt with growing fractures within the LGBTQ+ community. Also I laughed because the comments were on point: “what’s up with all the exercising? Are y’all getting ready for war”?

But it also left me equally frustrated because the social commentaries were either too little or too much. The LGBTQ+ experience — for people of my generation — does not lend itself too well to comedy. Ok let me rephrase this: to light comedy. Afterall, La Vita e Bella is a comedy about the Holocaust. Indeed, the negative portrayal of LGBTQ+ people in a homophobic and transphobic society had and continues to have truly dramatic consequences. Something LGBTQ+ people — obsessed with appearing as resilient — often minimize. Mental disorder, suicide, disease, self-harm, poverty: for many there was no happily ever-after moment even with a caveat. What was broken could not be repaired even by love.

This once-common experience for LGBTQ+ people is increasingly becoming a thing of the past: in a connected world, LGBTQ+ content is spreading despite the desperate efforts of the Russias and Qatars of this world. We are manufacturing the healthiest generation of LGBTQ+ people ever. And yet, it sometimes feels a bit early to make light of the past or to imply that everything is reparable because it isn’t.

My favorite LGBTQ+ movie remains “Yossi and Jagger” (2003). Mostly because it does not have a happy ending but also because it is a nuanced representation of gay love compared to everything that came before and particularly “Trick” (1999) — the first gay movie I ever watched, also a rom-com by the way.

I left the theater feeling somewhat sad. Maybe because I am French, maybe because it is a rainy day, maybe because I watched it alone, maybe because I am realizing I am of a dying breed or maybe because I am still looking for that perfect gay movie bridging for me the lightness of “Trick” and the gravity of “Yossi and Jagger». Ultimately, that is the best description of my generation’s experience: we laughed and suffered intensely caught between the tragedy and grandeur of a queer existence.

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Fabrice Houdart

Fabrice is on the Board of Outright Action International. Previously he was an officer at the UN Human Rights Office and World Bank