Nicholas Stoller’s Bros feels like the first studio comedy in a long time. If it isn’t, well, it’s definitely the first LGBTQ+ romcom to be made for a major studio, and it’s kind of crazy that it took us this long to get here. It’s a major bummer that audiences didn’t really flock to it this weekend, because I crave the return of the studio comedy. It was a much simpler, better time when Judd Apatow (a producer here) reigned supreme, and watching Bros was a delightful reminder that studio comedies are a good time… when they’re good, which this one is.
Stoller co-wrote this with Billy Eichner, who is also of course the star. He’s never headlined a movie before, and honestly, if you didn’t know that, it would still come as a surprise. Because he’s a real natural on screen. Sure, he’s working with his own material, but it’s not like this role requires something laid back. Eichner actually has, for a comedy at least, a lot of heavy lifting to do. Because not only does he have to win us over, but he has to have chemistry with his onscreen partner, and he has to be able to deliver on the dramatic side of the story. All of which, I’d say he does.
If you have ever watched Billy on the Street (which I’ve dabbled with but could do with more dabbling), you’ll sense very early on that what you’re watching is very much in Billy Eichner’s wheelhouse. I mean this as a good thing. Apatow, as he did with Amy Schumer, Seth Rogen, Pete Davidson, Lena Dunham, Steve Carell, etc., takes chances on funny people that he knows are funny, and he lets them build a cinematic vehicle around themselves. Typically, it works pretty well, and with Eichner and Bros, they have struck yet again.
Eichner plays Bobby, a single, 40-ish gay guy who runs a podcast and is also working on an LGBTQ+ museum. The thing you’ll notice about Bros is that, while at its core it’s groundbreaking, much of the film plays like the romantic comedies that you can tell Eichner loves… but with his personal touches. There’s gay bars, there’s Grindr encounters (he beautifully captures just how awkward they can be), the works. Bobby likes his single life, but we sense that he might want more. One night while at a club, he locks eyes with Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), who has the face of Dave Bautista but the body of Dwayne Johnson. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him before, and he apparently comes from the Hallmark Channel (which is hilariously mocked here), but I was really won over by him.
Aaron tells him that he’s supposed to be f**king a guy and his husband later on that evening, and that he also likes Garth Brooks. Bobby, like I, is mortified by the latter more than the prior. The two begin talking a bit more, and then they start sleeping together, and then they start dating. Trouble is always looming though, with Aaron questioning whether or not he wants commitment, and Bobby’s insecurities about not being his type. Bobby is also dealing with the museum and whether or not he can get it off the ground, but primarily their relationship is at the forefront.
The thing about Bros is that it’s a romantic comedy that succeeds at both. It is romantic, and Eichner and Macfarlane have so much charm and chemistry that it’s easy to invest in them. It’s all pretty sweet and thoughtful. They’re also both very attractive, so that helps too. But it’s also really funny- not the entire thing, but when Eichner gets to cook, he sizzles. This is material that he’s probably had stored within him for many years, both comedically and dramatically, with a monologue on the beach being the biggest proof of that. But as a comedy it’s ultimately successful. You gotta love the cameos here, and Eichner has this gift for making just about any popculture reference funny.
The thing about the Apatow romcom is that you come for raunchy, hysterical stuff, but you leave feeling charmed by the company you’ve spent the last two hours with. Apatow and Stoller (whose Forgetting Sarah Marshall is an all-timer), in their best work, deliver upon the comedy, but there is more on their minds; they get you to care about the characters and invest yourself in them. It’s not just a laugh-a-minute romp, which is why they usually clock in at two hours. Bros clocks in a little under two hours, and I’ll say that it, like some of the others, might have needed a slight trim. I’ll also say that while Bros does follow the conventions of the romcom genre (at least to a successful degree), It also follows the Apatow blueprint. We focus on a flawed but likable individual who finds joy, finds a way of some sort for sabotage, and then there’s a long stretch where everything is dramatic (but with humor sprinkled in) until the film reaches its conclusion.
We’ve seen it before, but I didn’t really care. Because Bros still works like an old fashioned charm, in new fashioned charm’s clothes. I liked this movie quite a bit. I liked these people, despite whatever faults they may have, and I cared about them. I also admire the way in which Eichner is able to incorporate queer history into the proceedings without shoehorning it. It’s a movie semi-about queer history that is making queer history itself, and all of that aside, I had a good time.