Theatrical Release: September 30, 2022 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: R
Director: Nicholas Stoller / Writers: Nicholas Stoller, Billy Eichner
Cast: Billy Eichner (Bobby Leiber), Luke Macfarlane (Aaron), Guy Branum (Henry), Miss Lawrence (Wanda), Ts Madison (Angela), Dot-Marie Jones (Cherry), Jim Rash (Robert), Eve Lindley (Tamara), Monica Raymund (Tina), Guillermo Diaz (Edgar), Jai Rodriguez (Jason), Amanda Bearse (Anne), Debra Messing (Debra Messing), Harvey Fierstein (Lewis), Brock Ciarlelli (Steve), Kristin Chenoweth (Kristin Chenoweth), Ben Stiller (Ben Stiller), Kenan Thompson (James Baldwin), Amy Schumer (Eleanor Roosevelt)
Billy Eichner spent the 2010s making a name for himself as the star, creator, and executive producer of "Billy on the Street", a comedy game show that consisted primarily of him bombarding often bewildered strangers around Manhattan with questions about pop culture.
The funny and offbeat series bounced around deep cable, airing on Fuse and TruTV. Though it couldn't have been a huge ratings draw, Eichner's unique style of comedy impressed talented and influential people, which would explain why he was joined by an A-list entertainer as guest star in just about every episode.
"Billy on the Street" led to other high-profile gigs, including a recurring role on "Parks & Recreation", a starring role on Hulu's relatively short-lived "Difficult People", and getting to voice Timon in Disney's $1.6 billion-grossing 2019 The Lion King remake. But it always seemed like Eichner was due a big breakout vehicle and that unmistakably arrives in the form of Bros, noteworthy as essentially the first mainstream LGBTQ romantic comedy from a major studio. Here, queer actors get to shatter historic barriers, not unlike the ones that Asian-American actors got to break down on Crazy Rich Asians.
Co-written by Eichner and director Nicholas Stoller, Bros casts Eichner to type as Bobby Lieber, the irritable host of a popular podcast celebrating the LGBTQ community. Bobby has his foot in the doorway of various industries, but his current focus is on the looming launch of the first LGBTQ-themed museum of American history, a passion project for he and his New York colleagues.
When he's not raising funds and considering exhibition ideas, Bobby is often found connecting with Grindr matches for generally awkward one-and-done hookups. But one night, his eye is caught by the handsome and fit Aaron (Luke Macfarlane). Aaron, a probate lawyer, subverts Bobby's expectations repeatedly and vice-versa. Both men are reluctant to enter into a relationship, but the attraction is mutual and palpable. And despite some trepidation, they go for it, slowly, starting with casual texts and not long after progressing to a Pride weekend in Provincetown.
Bros might be described as just another romantic comedy if romantic comedies were not historically the exclusive domain of heterosexual relationships. This film manages to feel revolutionary and trail-blazing simply on the basis that Hollywood has always treated the romcom as date night fodder for one man and one woman. Beyond the homosexual cisgender men in its foreground, Bros also considers the perspectives and dating lives of bisexuals, transgender people, and a gay thruple.
Cynics will say that Universal has run the research and determined that there is a market for such a movie in the industry's current climate of championing diversity like never before. There is truth in that. The days of heated political debate and meaningful boycotts are behind us and tolerance is now thriving to an almost comical degree in the film industry, whose Academy two years ago introduced guidelines requiring diversity for consideration. It would be easy to rag on Bros as simply the calculated product of easily observed shifting trends.
Alas, this movie is too good to be dismissed as that and better than the vast majority of romantic comedies being made. Eichner, whose knowledge and measured admiration of show business and specifically film were obvious to anyone watching "Billy on the Street" for about two minutes, approaches this movie determined to seize the unprecedented opportunities he's afforded here, but not at the expense of entertainment value. Rather than contribute to the tradition of straight actors playing gay for awards (something that fuels a repeated joke), the film is populated by actors who openly belong to the LGBTQ community, from contemporary television stars and a couple of iconic veterans (Harvey Fierstein and "Married...with Children"'s Amanda Bearse). No one is beneath the material and all lend an air of authenticity to the proceedings.
Eichner is wise to ally with established comedy veterans in his seasoned co-writer and director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Neighbors) and having the film produced by Judd Apatow. Apatow has repeatedly used the power and influence he gained from some stellar work to showcase rising, young talents and even at 44, Eichner meets that definition squarely with a sharp, funny screenplay and a surprisingly nuanced lead performance. The comedian tones down his signature shtick a bit (there is minimal shouting and not even one camera address) without doing anything to diminish the allure of his distinct voice. And of course a decade of celebrity collaborations yields some fruitful cameos here from the likes of Debra Messing and Ben Stiller, both amusingly playing themselves.
Bros may not live up to its title or the premise being presented in the marketing campaign, but it is so rare to encounter intelligence in this genre that it is practically impossible to mind. The film runs a little long and cannot help but end in the satisfying manner you expect. Still, in a year full of off-key comedies and movies so consumed with ushering in diversity that they forget to entertain, this movie stands out in a good way.
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