Directed by Nicholas Stoller | Written by Stoller and Billy Eichner | 115 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | On Demand
This past week Film Twitter has been all up in arms about why Bros bombed at the box office and whether its writer and star, Billy Eichner — of the running up to people on the street and yelling at them comedy videos — was right to browbeat his audience into going to see the movie. Was homophobia is the reason it isn’t doing well at the box office, as he said?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, TBH. Maybe? I mean, this is clearly Eichner’s baby, his shot at becoming a big screen gay comedy star, of which there really are none. While I suspect the reason for the film’s financial disappointment is far more complicated than Eichner suggests I can understand his frustration at the pockets of America who didn’t show up for it. Especially when the movie is good, which this one is.
Eichner plays a New York celebrity children’s book author and podcaster, Bobby Leiber, whose podcast is called The Eleventh Brick at Stonewall. His opening joke is about the title of his podcast — while nobody is sure who threw the first brick at the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village, it was probably a cis white gay guy who threw the 11th. It’s a good one to start with because it undercuts any suggestion that he thinks he’s going to be some kind of representative voice for the queer community with his movie, which was marketed for having a fully gay cast — even the actors who play characters who are straight.
One of the jokes immediately following is about how Hollywood offered him a bunch of money to make a romantic comedy. A little on the nose, but the result is he doesn’t think he should be making a romcom because he’s 40, he’s successful, happily single, has never had a lasting relationship doesn’t need a significant other in his life.
Here he may be onto something. I’m gonna say that Bros is a terrific gay comedy. It’s not a particularly special romantic comedy.
Bobby’s the curator for the first National LGBTQ+ Museum in New York. He spends his days arguing with the board about what kind of exhibits should be in the space. He hangs out with the crew of gay friends who are having kids or exploring life in a thruple. He goes to nightclubs and has quick, largely anonymous sex via Grindr. All of this prompts a lot of gags about urban gay life and culture, and almost all of it is on target with a refreshing undercurrent of seriousness — who are gay people in the big city now, and how do they define themselves as a culture entirely separate from the straights without much of the oppression they might have felt in the past? The window into a culture seems entirely thoughtful, and very, very funny.
And that’s when Bobby meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), a hunky lawyer who’s miserable in his professional life but not especially interested in any commitment, either. So the crux of the picture is how these two people, neither of whom want a relationship get into a relationship.
They’re both compelling screen presences. Macfarlane seemed a little stiff at first, but you warm up to his Aaron as you go along and his vulnerabilities beneath the six-pack abs are revealed, while Eichner is entirely believable as someone fairly self-aware but not entirely honest with himself. He gives a powerful monologue in a scene toward the end of the second act about having fought his way to being who he is now, how he proved all the homophobic naysayers wrong. In a different kind of movie that’s some award-worthy stuff, and suggests Eichner has a future career as a dramatic actor.
But this isn’t a different kind of movie. All the gay culture stuff is so great, so smart, but when the picture cleaves to the romcom formula, it becomes sadly rote and not nearly so special. It doesn’t ruin the experience, not by a long shot, not when so much of this writing is so good, but it makes you wish Eichner and his collaborators (including producer Judd Apatow) had made a comedy more in the vein of classic Woody Allen. One that didn’t need to be so obvious, but trusted that its characters and storyline could survive a little ambiguity and surprise, veering from the expected.
In some respects, both the recent Fire Island and the Christmas gay romcom Happiest Season did more interesting things with the cliches of the genre, but Bros is cleverer about the culture it’s set in.
The box office disappointment of Bros could be a gift in disguise. If Eichner is forced to make a picture on an indie budget, maybe he’ll do something truly extraordinary.