- Directed by Nicholas Stoller
- Written by Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller
- Starring Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane and Guy Branum
- Classification R; 115 minutes
- Opens in theatres Sept. 30
The new rom-com Bros is being touted by Universal Pictures as a history-making affair. Co-written and starring comic actor Billy Eichner, and featuring a cast almost exclusively populated by LGBTQ actors (even those playing straight characters), the film is the first explicitly queer film to be given a big-budget push by a major Hollywood studio. And good for everyone involved, because Bros is a genuinely hilarious, wonderful movie: heartfelt, slick and crafted with such careful comedic care that a good deal of jokes will inevitably be drowned out by audiences still laughing over the punchlines that came just before.
But while Bros is making history, it is also revisiting it. Although Eichner is the film’s chief architect – and is as enjoyably prickly in his first lead role as he was in his viral Billy on the Street videos or his scene-stealing roles on NBC’s Parks and Recreation and Netflix’s Friends from College – Bros is also another product from the Judd Apatow comedy factory.
The one-time king of big-screen comedy, whose brand of bros-being-bros-but-not-quite-like-these-Bros humour hasn’t exactly found favour on the big screen in a few years (blame the pandemic, or streaming, or Marvel Studios, or all the above), is a key producer here. And joining him as a producer, and Bros’ director, is frequent collaborator Nicholas Stoller, who worked with Eichner on Friends from College but made his comedy bones by helming such Apatow-certified productions as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, and the two Neighbors films.
As much as Bros wants to set itself apart from the mainstream Hollywood comedies that came before it – there is even a cute little meta-contextual prologue in which Eichner dismisses a studio executive’s attempts to flatten the rom-com movie pitch that we’re about to watch – it is also a direct continuation of the patented Apatow formula. There are lovably awful characters who find redemption by pairing up with one another. There are grin-inducing cameos from celebrities poking gentle fun at themselves. And there are plenty of excellent gags built on the inherent shock value of sex (the key difference here is that some audiences might not be as familiar with, say, the concept of “poppers”; but you’ll learn quickly enough).
Hewing close to the Apatow school of comedy isn’t a knock on Bros – if it works, it works. It is just that in repeatedly telling audiences that it is attempting something radical, Bros risks tripping from its baseline of sincerity into something slightly dishonest. What is genuine, though, is the quality and quantity of knock-’em-dead jokes that Eichner and Stoller’s script contains, and the absolute charm of the film’s leads.
Playing a New York podcaster named Bobby who is also trying to set up America’s first gay history museum, Eichner is performing a lightly fictionalized version of his public persona: cranky, irritable and incapable of finishing a sentence without a sharp-as-a-knife wisecrack. Convinced that he isn’t made for long-term relationships, Bobby half-heartedly goes through the motions of casual Grindr-enabled sex, even as his friends both straight and gay start to pair off and form families.
But in Hollywood’s first meet-cute to ever be set inside a shirtless gay nightclub – complete with a buff 70-year-old dancer who one character accurately calls “Dumbledore on steroids” – Bobby meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), a probate lawyer with his own set of commitment issues. One thing leads to another, and eventually the two go through the typical rom-com motions: the honeymoon phase, the unpleasant fight, the reconciliation, the weekend spent convincing an eccentric corporate titan to donate money for a gay-history museum roller coaster ride, you know.
While there are few actual surprises in Bros, there is more than enough wit and energy to enliven the clichés and archetypes it trades in. Eichner and Stoller wisely populate the margins of their cast with a wide, diverse range of comic performers – TS Madison proves that she deserves a big-screen vehicle of her own as one of Bobby’s museum curators, while Saturday Night Live’s Bowen Yang steals his five minutes of screen time as a philanthropic-averse millionaire – while moving the story along at a brisk, under-120-minute pace that feels practically anti-Apatowian.
But it is Macfarlane’s performance that truly seals Bros’ deal. The Canadian actor, who has spent the past decade playing the lead in a dozen Hallmark Christmas movies, is a revelation here: wry, affecting and relatable even with an eight-pack and impossibly handsome smile. Sure, the movie pushes Bobby into such annoying territory that you begin to wonder what, exactly, Aaron sees in him. But somehow Macfarlane sells the relationship. Welcome to the big screen, bro. It’s a pleasure watching you and Eichner make history.