Directed By: Nicholas Stoller
Written By: Nicholas Stoller and Billy Eichner
Starring: Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane
Plot: A New York City Gay History Museum Curator stumbles upon the perfect man with commitment issues as they fumble through the initial stages of modern adult dating.
Run Time: 115 minutes
Review: If the plot description doesn’t give it away, the director might. Nicholas Stoller has been directing in the comedy space for 15 years. His movies are filled with likeable and relatable romantic characters, run too long, lack stylistic flair, and occasionally have funny scattershot jokes and references. This is the first major studio rom-com in ages that doesn’t feel like a Hallmark movie. Yet despite a theatrical pedigree that pokes deliberate fun at those Hallmark films, Bros does little to stand out beyond its progressive conceit.
The movie starts off strong with an introduction by Bobby Lee (Billy Eichner, funny just fine) to his blogging audience. In his post, Bobby hilariously sums up the unique goals and mindset of the movie we’re about to watch: a major motion picture about gay men that hasn’t been made earlier because it doesn’t want to cater to straight views. It was inevitable there would be a gay studio comedy (released by major distributor Universal Pictures). I guess the 1996 smash The Birdcage doesn’t count because Robin Williams and Nathan Lane (who Eichner replaced in The Lion King remake) weren’t queer enough.
Unfortunately, after the promising opening scene, it’s all downhill. Bros lacks genuine stakes and fails to generate sustainable interest in its characters over the 115-minute running time. If you’re wondering why the studio comedy has been declared dead, it is not due to political correctness. Rather the riff-a-minute style of producer Judd Apatow who burst onto the feature film scene with the one-two punch of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up and has refused to leave since. The well of heavily improvised broad pop-cultural jokes was much more funny and unique in 2005 and ’07 but has since been done to death by countless imitators becoming the default version of comedy for many studios.
Comedies like Stoller’s own Neighbors (and to a lesser extent Neighbors 2), Game Night and Booksmart that dare to fashion an actual story, set design, meaningfully explored themes and characters with scenes that have actual endings around their laughs have become all too rare an exception in comedy. Instead, we have movies like Bros which play like an overlong standup routine entirely built around punchlines that are funny but lack depth. If an audience is going to spend more than 90 minutes with a character, they hope to take something valuable with them to hold onto. Bros with its half-baked storyline and thin characters lacks those values and comes across as hypocritical when after introducing us to a funny assortment of LGB2TQ+ characters spends almost no time with them while the main character openly admits how vanilla he is in comparison.
There’s a place for the riff a minute, and find the story in the editing style of comedy. But in the post-Vine and TikTok world, it’s hard to compete with a Billy on the Street highlight reel. What Bros offers would be better served on a television show. The actual growth and accomplishments these characters achieve by the end of the film compared to where they were at the beginning could be serviced with 1/3 of the running time.Despite that, there are still a funny collection of characters, relationships and scene ideas. Uniquely, the sex scenes which most Hollywood movies try and steer clear of are the funniest. An early Grindr hookup scene is hilarious for how fearlessly it engages sex while its characters emotionally disengage. A similar scene depicting a threesome while the two romantic leads are on a date received the biggest laughs from the full audience at Roy Thompson Hall. Still despite these great scenes which had the audience laughing the rest of the movie lacks the same substance. The scenes lack a strong point of view and seem indifferently directed. One promising scene where Bobby and his boyfriend (Luke Macfarlane; handsome, bland, hallmark perfect) pitch ideas for their gay exhibit, conjures an exciting image of a gay haunted house. As an audience member, I thought; I can’t wait to see that. The final payoff onscreen however is such an underwhelming afterthought, my colleague figured the filmmakers must have forgotten about it until the last minute.
Such is the case with Bros as a whole. A movie with a funny concept that is also funny on the page and in the performances, but fails to deliver in every other aspect. Peaking early, and overstaying its welcome with little reason to hang on. However well-intentioned it might be, audiences deserve a better relationship.