The major studio romcom is back with a flourish, but it took Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller to prove the format still works, even if this time it is two gay men who are the ones who find love against all odds.
Although Bros is indeed making history as the first major studio film with an all LGBTQ principal cast, and the first to star and be co-written by an openly gay man , ultimately what it has to say about how hard it is to find the perfect someone to spend your life with is truly universal. Don’t get me wrong. Much of the humor in Bros comes from situations and attitudes specific to gay culture, but you don’t have to be gay to laugh out loud at most of it.
It must be seen in a theatre as I did tonight with a rollicking full house at the film’s World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and I can tell you I didn’t realize how long it has been that I have sat in a movie theatre and laughed out loud this much. Bros is the funniest film of the year – and one of the most heartfelt. I had forgotten that studios used to make comedies like this all the time. Maybe Bros can bring them back.
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It shouldn’t come as a surprise since this isn’t the first rodeo for Stoller whose comedy credits include Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five Year Engagement and others, and Producer Judd Apatow whose massive list of credits include The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, The Big Sick, Trainwreck and so many more. He is also responsible for getting major studios to greenlight movies that became breakthroughs for so many including Steve Carell, Amy Schumer, Pete Davidson, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig and on and on. Why not a gay man like Eichner who has a genuine movie star personality that is , well, irresistible along with clearly a razor sharp wit to add to that list? The jokes, and endless pop culture references come at a pace that is hard to keep up with, delivered by a stellar cast who know how to sock it home.
The basic premise has Bobby (Eichner) frustrated as he hits middle age and can’t find love. The visits to gay night spots always end in disappointment and he just can’t catch a break, a man whose self image can’t match the hot gym-tuned men that seem to get all the action. His day job just accentuates his gayness as he is trying to open the first LGBTQ Natural History Museum, but has to deal with a board with personal connections to all of those letters and who can’t seem to agree on much. At any rate one night across a crowded dance floor he thinks he sees the “one”. That guy, Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) is the person his caustic friend Henry (Guy Branum) warns is boring, but Bobby soon finds out differently but is frustrated that Aaron doesn’t seem to want to hook up and as it turns out is relationship-phobic. Eventually in classic romantic comedy fashion they find they just may need each other, that this could be the real thing, but with Bobby needing it more than Aaron. If you have ever seen a romcom where opposites attract you can pretty much telegraph where this is all headed, but getting there is all the fun.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to surround yourself with killer comedy talent, and the fact that this has been cast with all LGBTQ in mind for the most part not only makes it admirable, it also makes sense when you see this ensemble who are clearly as good as it gets. Eichner explodes on the screen as a major comic talent (but we knew that from his lovable lemur in The Lion King didn’t we?). Eichner knocks it out of the park, whether letting it rip at a dinner with Aaron’s parents, or lowering his voice several octaves to appear like a cool bros to other gym rats, or going toe to toe with Debra Messing who turns up in a hysterical cameo playing off her Will And Grace character and frustration at being the real world answer to gay men’s problems. That’s a great bit, but there are so many, the ratio of hits to misses here is really high. This is smartly written all the way through, but not so smart they can’t take potshots at everything from Hallmark Christmas Movies to Renee Zellweger.
Macfarlane is, you will pardon the expression, the straight man here, a perfect foil for Eichner’s somewhat manic Bobby and the chemistry between them pops. He’s terrific. Branum gets some choice observations to spout and steals scenes every time he shows up, the wisecracking friend you always see in these movies since Hollywood started making them decades ago. The LBGTQ museum board is priceless and includes Miss Lawrence, TS Madison, Jim Rash, Eve Lindley, and Dot-Marie Jones who makes hay with some great Lesbian jokes. Bowen Yang turns up briefly during their sojourn to Provincetown when Bobby tries to get him to donate money to the museum, and Harvey Fierstein plays a gay friend who lets them stay at his place. The film’s end has some choice surprise cameos as well in one of those museum exhibits.
With a wink at some classic romcoms of the pasts (You’ve Got Mail is one seen directly) Marc Shaiman who has composed scores for When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle and many others offers the perfect music to put Bros right in that league. An amusing original song, “Love Is Not Love” was written by him and Eichner which the latter delivers in a cheeky musical tip of the cowboy hat to “gay icon” Garth Brooks.
Producers are Apatow, Stoller, and Josh Church. Universal releases it in about 3000 theatres on September 30.
Fortunately in doing this “first” for studio romantic comedies, these filmmakers have not rewritten the rules of the genre but instead have opened a closed door and found ways to make it new all over again.
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