Bros

Bros ★★★½

There's something special about seeing a release from Universal, a studio so big that it's spawned two theme parks, in which a sequence featuring an awkward Grindr hookup occurs before the "Universal Pictures Presents" chyron kicking off the credits even appears onscreen. And the representational strengths of BROS, the first gay romantic comedy starring an all-LGBTQ central cast to be launched into wide release by a major studio, go well beyond that candor about casual gay sex. In particular, I love how relatable and specific the protagonist, Bobby (Billy Eichner), a podcaster given the opportunity to assist in the creation of an LGBTQ museum, is. Far from being the smooth, confident Adonis type showcased in plenty of lesser, lower-budgeted queer films, he's neurotic, insecure, conversationally rambling, and obsessed with movies and TV instead of fashion and hip brands. It's interesting just how relatable I find the character--he even has cathartically funny, dead-on rants about how problematic THE HANGOVER and BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY are, and I remember feeling very alone in finding the former homophobic when so many critics and viewers were raving about it back in 2009.

Eichner co-wrote the script, with director Nicholas Stoller, and has tailored the character of Bobby to suit his comedic strengths, which have been well-established on his hilarious series BILLY ON THE STREET, where he sprints across NYC streets aggressively engaging the passerby in pop culture trivia. Whenever Bobby is firing off scathing quips or committing to bitter yet amusing tirades, Eichner's performance and BROS itself reach blissful peak form. However, the comedian's big-screen debut in a leading role isn't as well-rounded or revelatory as that of Amy Schumer in TRAINWRECK or Kumail Nanjiani in THE BIG SICK, to name two examples in similar comedic vehicles shepherded, as BROS is, by producer Judd Apatow. There's something inexpressive about Eichner's eyes that keep him from fully registering as an authentic movie star (as if the disappointing box office hadn't already confirmed he failed at that!), and in scenes that require him to be more dramatic and emotionally open, he comes off a bit insincere.

But the film still manages to showcase an actor who deserves more plum big-screen roles based on his work here, and that would be Luke Macfarlane, who plays Aaron, a gym-toned, easygoing guy who Bobby meets at a club and continues to pursue despite his fear of commitment. As the movie goes on, Macfarlane's performance becomes more human and layered as we see the vulnerability and smarts to the character that aren't as visible on the surface as they are with Bobby. The actor also has a natural charisma that deserves to carry him further than the TV movie work that has largely defined his resume up to this point.

As can be the case with some Apatow-produced comedies, the film is too basic and sometimes slapdash on a filmmaking level. The editing of certain dialogue-driven scenes is overly choppy, and the consistent lack of establishing shots at the start of scenes gets disorienting. It's enough to make me think that director Stoller's best film, the underrated THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT, was stylistically propped up by its DP, Javier Aguirreasrobe (TALK TO HER), to a huge degree.

But a romcom like this is far more dependent on its script than by style, and on that count, BROS scores a major victory. The dialogue is loaded with sharp, laugh-out-loud zingers, and there's more of an absurdity along the lines of, say, a David Wain film to the comic voice and tone than I expected. I had a great time cracking up along with the audience at a nearly sold-out show at The Grove theater here in LA, and it's a shame that people in other parts of the US who would love to see the movie that way have to experience it in empty theaters, but this is still a comedy well worth seeing even if the communal vibe is lacking.

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