Synopsis: Two gay men with commitment problems are maybe, possibly, probably stumbling towards love. Maybe. They’re both very busy.
Stars: Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane, Dot-Marie Jones, Ts Madison, Miss Lawrence, Eve Lindley, Jim Rash, Monica Raymund, Guillermo Díaz, Debra Messing, Bowen Yang, Harvey Fierstein, Guy Branum, Amanda Bearse, Jai Rodriguez
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: To most people reading this review, it may not seem like a lot is riding on the release of Bros, but it’s another colossal watershed moment for Hollywood. While there have been “gay” romantic comedies over the years, few of them have had stars that identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community playing the lead roles. Often reduced to arch stereotypes that support the lead, LGBTQ+ actors have rarely had their moment in the spotlight, let alone starred in unironic films about their non-platonic love lives. Then along came Billy.
Billy Eichner that is. The 44-year-old comedian’s early career promise was evident with appearances on Conan O’Brien that led to his riotously funny show Billy on the Street. Originally airing on the hard-to-find truTV, it featured Eichner furiously running around NYC and stopping random strangers to ask them off-the-wall trivia questions, often for prizes. As it gained popularity, celebrities started to join Eichner for his irreverent guerilla game show, and the powers that be on bigger networks noticed the attention he was getting. Eventually, this led to Difficult People, a half-hour series he created with friend Julie Klausner running for three seasons on Hulu before being unceremoniously canceled in its prime.
By then, Eichner was on his way to guest starring on TV shows and movies (he voiced Timon in Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of The Lion King) and booking appearances at events showcasing his wry wit and dry observances on all things affecting our modern society. This brings us to his deal with Universal Pictures to co-write and star in Bros, the first gay romantic comedy from a mainstream studio featuring an entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast. A lot to shoulder but if anyone was up to the task, Eichner was confidently the one to do it.
Directed by co-writer Nicholas Stoller (The Five-Year Engagement) and co-starring Luke Macfarlane, on one hand Bros serves as a great example of when you amplify the right voices, you wind up telling everyone’s story. Eichner and MacFarlane are a modern, complex pairing moving through the ups & downs of romance, finding laughs while targeting the heart. On the flip side, as a member of the very community it is raising up, I will say that while I found much to appreciate from the story and breadth of characters it represents, a closer examination finds the film to be structurally shaky as it overreaches in its talking points, inclusive to the point where it feels like casting by checkbox and lacking in the kind of tight, snappy editing that was the secret ingredient to the best romantic comedies it strives to be mentioned with.
Here’s the deal. No matter who you love, I’m going to give an honest read of any movie that comes my way. At the beginning of Bros, I struggled to find a rhythm with the comedy because I couldn’t decide if it was a commentary on modern gay romance or a gay romantic comedy with side commentary. So, we see Bobby (Eichner), a popular podcaster turned museum curator, viewing the myriad relationships around him and enjoying his freedom while illustrating his shenanigans trying to find quick love only to be let down by the experience. (How very Stephen Sondheim’s Company of you…Bobby) Gay dating apps are presented as shallow end-of-the-line pick-up spots for the desperate, while accepting the love you feel you are worthy of is Bobby’s modus operandi.
That mood shifts when Aaron (Macfarlane, Single All The Way) catches Bobby’s eye at a club. The hunky beefcake is a hairless Greek god next to Bobby’s fuzzy but attractive frame, and the two couldn’t be more mismatched, but they both share a connection that keeps them coming back to one another for reasons they can’t explain. That’s what the movie tells us, at least. While Eichner and Macfarlane have an excellent rapport onscreen and friendly chemistry as people, their characters never feel like their bond burns so deep they will go through some of the misery the script puts them through. It’s not until nearly an hour has passed that either character relaxes enough to let the other in just a bit, but even that is fleeting.
It feels almost wrong to nitpick at something as rare as Bros, and while I wholly recommend it because of its unique place in the canon of romantic comedies, I find that my expectations went a bit unmet at times. Don’t get me wrong, Eichner and Stoller’s script has blazingly funny lines, and an Emmy-winning sitcom star has a two-scene cameo that’s an absolute scream. Still, there are stretches where it often feels like it’s floating just below the surface of great or missing out on its possible full potential. Maybe that’s because Stoller’s directing isn’t as pulled together as it usually is; it’s for sure not edited with the crisp touch for sharp comedy (or continuity) like previous films. There’s also a strange fixation on allowing characters to shout/scream their lines when an “inside voice” would do just fine. (And this is coming from someone who can be the loudest person in the room when he wants.)
Based on the reaction of my audience, I’m likely in the minority of opinion. The packed house roared throughout the film, and I sensed their engagement with nary a break in the spell that was cast over them by Eicher, Macfarlane, and an eclectic supporting cast. Then again, these screenings often attract a curated crowd. I also am curious to see how the aggressive marketing of the movie might backfire. As much as Eichner and the studio have been pushing Bros, the publicity has seemed more plea than promo in recent weeks. I’m crossing my fingers Bros can be the crossover hit it needs to be to encourage more studios to invest their resources in other films that can speak to the everyday lives of the LBGTQ+ community and continue to include them (well, us) as the main focus in future projects
I struggled with this one as well. As a bi man who came out publicly in part to challenge what I see as bi erasure, I wasn’t terribly amused that the one bi character was a cranky pill – but then, Eichner’s character is so much more of one that I really cringed at times. What’s worse is that I really liked Luke Macfarlane’s arc and performance – it was genuinely sweet and funny seeing him come to terms, not with being gay, but with being sensitive.
And yeah, Stoller’s direction too often felt like an extended sitcom. A very frustrating film, but hopefully a herald of better things to come.