Directed by Henry Hanson
“It’s not gay because we’re looking at girls.”
Bros Before is a frenetic short film from Chicago filmmaker Henry Hanson about Billy (Radcliffe Adler) and Elijah (Marten Katze), two trans men and inseparable best friends. That is until Billy starts dating a woman named Grace (Meadow Meyer).
This is a film that knows exactly who it’s about and who it’s for. Everything that you see here is deliberately rooted in a 2020s punk, liberated-ish, white-ish trans culture. You can tell that everyone involved both has love for and is willing to gleefully prod with their arrows pointed inward. Jade Wong’s production design really secures the magic here, with walls covered in aesthetic historical queer art and Elijah wearing a DIY denim vest with radical slogans haphazardly sewn in throughout.
All of this is completely unapologetic with no attempt to force legibility to cis people. This becomes loudest when trans activist Lou Sullivan’s collected journals We Both Laughed In Pleasure is used as a key symbol in Elijah’s development. The intended audience will absolutely get it.
Hanson’s film also keeps a lightheartedness throughout. I think in a different film the stiltedness of some of the acting would be painful, but the awkwardness better fits into the broader ridiculousness and parodic relationship Billy and Elijah have with masculinity. Elijah confidently states, “I’m not gay,” as he cuddles up to Billy in bed just after hooking up. The sexual tension between the pair is palpable even in the ridiculousness of the dynamic where these guys reliably call each other “bro” or “dude” in every lovely utterance. All of this forms a consistent playfulness in the construction of a queer masculinity beyond cisness. When Grace enters the fold with her relentless coolness and dry delivery, she sits aloof in relation to these two awkward and dorky men, which even further emphasises the satirical machoness at play in this triangle.
Even with all the silliness and awkwardness there is some sharp craft at work here. The jump cuts in Hanson’s editing keep you on your toes and there is an incredible split screen shot which really showcases the production design and how well these characters fit within it. Also the lighting, especially during a drug trip scene (with Michete’s iconic slutty dance anthem “Hard” playing in the background), creates some striking sights in the midst of it all.
Bros Before feels as if the dude-lier end of the American comedy genre listened to Arca and did ket on the weekends. Which is to say, it’s a real fun time.