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When Harry met … Sully? Rom-com ‘Bros’ a grand, gay time

October 3, 2022
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My affinity for romantic comedies is well-documented at this point. I love a good rom-com. Always have. From the earliest screwball comedies to the current streaming revival of the genre, I remain a devoted fan. Sure, some are better than others, but to my mind, rom-coms are like pizza – even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good.

Now, there are those who would argue that rom-coms are simply continuous rehashing of the same old formulas. And honestly? That’s a valid argument to make in a lot of respects. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? If we like something, why wouldn’t we want more of it? And why mess with a good thing?

Unless you’re Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller. Then, by all means – mess away.

Their new film “Bros” – Eichner stars, Stoller directs and they share writing credit – is a romantic comedy that centers gay men in a way that we’ve never really seen in a mainstream studio release. It is a rom-com that recognizes the significant differences between LGBTQ+ relationships and traditionally heterosexual ones. This movie is not interested in shoehorning its queerness into a cishet space, instead opting to put the (admittedly exaggerated) reality on display.

Now, it’s indisputable that a movie like “Bros” has ideas and agendas that it seeks to advance. That’s true of every piece of art that tries to say something that hasn’t been said at scale before; this movie is no different. However, while the inclusivity of the message is certainly important, you still need to make, you know, a good movie.

And “Bros” is good. VERY good. It is wildly, raunchily funny, packed with solid sight gags and pop culture references and a ton of sex positivity. It is also surprisingly, almost shockingly heartfelt; this is a movie that unapologetically wears its emotions on its sleeve between (and sometimes during) the self-aware filthiness and general joie de vivre.

Bobby (Billy Eichner) is a single gay man in his 40s. He’s achieved plenty of professional success – his podcast is huge, he’s landed a new gig as director of the first major LGBTQ+ history museum in New York City – and he’s got a wonderful collection of friends and colleagues, but his romantic life is less exciting. Mostly, he engages in random hookups via Grindr and has essentially decided that relationships aren’t for him.

One night, Bobby is out at the club with his friend Henry (Guy Branum) when he locks eyes with Aaron (Luke Macfarlane). At first glance, Aaron is one of those guys for whom Bobby can barely hide his disdain – shirtless and muscled and (in perhaps the biggest sin of all) boring – but the two cross paths a few times over the course of the evening and it seems that there might be a bit more to Aaron than meets the eye.

Things get off to a rocky start. There’s some flirting and an encounter or two, but also some inconsistencies in communication – inconsistencies that leave Bobby flustered and confused and occasionally lashing out at people who don’t deserve it, like his museum co-workers Wanda (Miss Lawrence), Angela (TS Madison), Cherry (Dot-Marie Jones), Robert (Jim Rash) and Tamara (Eve Lindley) or TV’s Debra Messing (Debra Messing).

Soon, however, the relationship begins to truly blossom despite the insecurities on both sides. Bobby and Aaron become a couple (though they’d never actually SAY they were a couple) and start spending loads of time together. Slowly but surely, they figure one another out as they navigate not just their own relationship, but the vast variety of relationships by which they are surrounded.

However, holding those deep-seated issues at bay forever was never going to be a viable option. For Bobby and so many like him, “love” is something of a dirty word. He’s been hurt many times – perhaps too many – so it remains to be seen whether he can push past the past and lean into what may prove to be an opportunity for true happiness. It all comes down to trust.

I absolutely adored this movie. Shocking, I know. But here’s the thing – “Bros” and films like it are always going to be important in their way, offering mainstream audiences perspective on loves and lives different than their own. But none of that matters if the movie isn’t good. Or great, if we’re being honest – this is the kind of movie that can’t afford to be “OK” or “so-so” or “fine.” That’s not fair, but it’s tough to deny that it’s true.

“Bros” feels lived-in in the manner that all truly excellent comedies feel, romantic or otherwise. The people we meet are textured and dynamic. They aren’t one-note caricatures, but rather living, breathing people. Yes, there is plenty of exaggeration for comedic effect – of course there is – but it’s all in service to telling a story that, for all its wackiness and hijinks, is a grounded story about navigating love’s choppy waters. It’s really hard to make room for over-the-top while still maintaining a firm foundation, but this movie does just that. And makes it look easy.

Nicholas Stoller is no stranger to outsized romantic comedy – this guy made “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Five-Year Engagement” – so he’s a great fit for the combination of breadth and delicacy that makes “Bros” so much fun to watch. It’s clever and cutting and delightfully dirty, all with an unwavering sentimentality carried within its extremely large heart. It all works – the laughter, the love, the low-hanging fruit, all of it.

Billy Eichner is marvelous in this movie. Bobby is snarky and witty and overflowing with curmudgeonly charm; Eichner has endowed him with genuine passion, playing him with a note-perfect combination of confidence and insecurity. He’ll make you laugh and make you cry. Luke Macfarlane is a magnificent counterpoint to Eichner; while Bobby’s is a life of the mind, Aaron is an overwhelmingly physical presence. Yet Macfarlane never allows his physicality to become a crutch; instead, we’re allowed to see the reasons behind that physicality and catch glimpses of the man beneath the muscle. The chemistry between the two – in both romantic terms and comedic – is spectacular.

Also spectacular? The supporting cast. Considering the length of the call sheet, there is a dearth of weak links that is legitimately shocking. Everyone is great. Branum’s line delivery is phenomenal. The museum meeting scenes – all gold. Bobby’s friend group – the old gays, the token straights, the throuple – are all awesome as well. At one point, Bowen Yang comes in and throws a hundred for a few minutes. HARVEY FRICKIN’ FIERSTEIN. The list goes on. Not a single sour grape in the bunch.

My affinity for rom-coms meant that I was almost certainly going to like this movie. However, the incredible work done by Eichner, Stoller and the rest of this phenomenal cast and crew meant that this middle-aged cishet white dude didn’t just like it. He LOVED it. And love is love.

Except when it isn’t.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 03 October 2022 14:57

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