Truly, we're living in a historic moment -- and by this, I'm not referencing the nomination of Barack Obama, the world records broken by Michael Phelps, or the recent calendar-passage of 08-08-08, among other heady global events. I'm musing on how it is that A Love That Formerly Dared Not Speak Its Name is so ubiquitous on our nation's movie screens that it threatens to eclipse all other loves: this is our Summer of Bromance.
Make no mistake: despite all their guns, car chases and explosions, both of this summer's big comedies, Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express, are boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy movies at their warm-and-fuzzy cores (the same is also true of the recent Stepbrothers). The "it's really a love story between two guys" theme has long been sounded in the buddy movie genre, and you don't have to stretch too far to find homoerotic subtext in such genre far-afield examples as The Dark Knight (Batman meets Joker, Batman loses Joker...). But how exactly did the line "I love you, bro!" become the accepted climactic cry-of-love norm for American movies?
Assuredly I have no readymade answer, only some brief observations. One is that in the past decade or so, men have invaded the formerly female-driven realm of romantic comedy and more or less transformed it, from the boundary-busting salvo of There's Something About Mary back in in '98 to 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall -- the former a movie that was really Mostly About Ben, and the latter one that could've been called Remembering Us Guys.
I've termed such male-driven rom-coms Macho-Chick Flicks (see The 40 Year-Old Virgin, and for that matter, pretty much any movie in the Apatow-and-his-imitators oeuvre), while others have called them Slacker-Striver and Raunch-Coms. But these are romantic comedies which, while piloted by male protagonists, are nonetheless ostensibly focused on a traditional male-female love story.
Let's say they paved the way. One could theorize that once the American audience had happily accepted love stories told from a male point of view, it was only a matter of time before we'd be ready to embrace -- say, with a manly hug that includes the requisite "but I'm not gay" pat on the back -- love stories between two firmly straight guys. Women have been all over this for centuries, movies portraying non-Sapphic girls-with-girls stories long a cinematic staple. What are Sex and the City and the Traveling Pants franchise other than celebrations of women loving women -- only, y' know, not in That Way?
Men, on the other hand, have always tended to like their manly love stories tacit rather than overt. Sure Midnight Cowboy and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were "I love you, man!" movies, but yeesh! -- that was the last thing in the world you'd want to hear one of their male stars actually uttering out loud.
Apparently the time has come, though -- when Pineapple blubbers it, prior to a kind of Tristan and Isolde walk through fire for ya, man climax, we're hearing the echo of a now-established credo. "I love you, man," became the official verbal genre-badge in last summer's seminal Superbad, which actually had the balls to feature that declaration of love (exchanged by Michael Sera and Jonah Hill) in its trailer.
Don't get me wrong, I think all of this is great (men -- owning up to their, like, feelings about men? sometimes to other men? -- woa, dude, it's deep). I'm just surprised that it's happening in a country that's been so famously puritanical and squeamish about all things homosexual.
That squeamishness is undoubtedly what's responsible for an absolute requirement in these bromantic comedies: their staunchly hetero heroes have to make it clear (repeatedly) that their affections are in no way about the sex, but about the love. Hence the strangely schizophrenic nature of last year's Adam Sandler bromantic comedy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, which was an odd melange of the pro-gay and the homophobic, its message "We love homos, who are just like you and me, although weird and absolutely terrifying."
However compromised or edge-cutting, bromantic comedy is hot this summer, and lest you think it's a passing fad, look out: next up of a series of brom-coms that may represent the peak or the saturation point of this sub-genre is Universal's Role Models, with brom-com staple Paul Rudd uttering That Line to Sean Scott Williams; currently in development are the inevitable Adam Sandler & Seth Rogen pairing (Apatow's Funny People), the return of fabulous Russell Brand in a kind of rock star My Favorite Year relationship with Jonah Hill (Get Him to the Greek). And before those guys have all met, broken up, and hugged it out in the end, expect John Hamburg's I Love You, Man (The Movie) to make you tear up as you guffaw, via Jason Segal -- cute kids! -- and Mr. Rudd again.
Apparently the bromantics are here to stay, at least into next year some time. But now that we've crossed a gender barrier and truly entered the current century, here's the final frontier for these boy-meets-boy movies: I know I'm talking pipe dreams here, but maybe -- just maybe, someday, when all these movie men have declared their clean-and-manly-but-not-physical love for one another, they might be ready to take on compelling three-dimensional, credible, even powerful... females?