Sometimes in entertainment, things suddenly come in pairs — two Oscar-bait Truman Capote biopics arriving months apart, for example, or competing takes on Aretha Franklin. The instinct, understandably, is to link them; what is Hollywood after all if not a self-reflexive hall of mirrors? And so it's been duly noted that 2022 has become the year of the Big Gay Romantic Comedy — "big" in the sense that these films aim squarely for the mainstream, but also in that they are made under the banner of major studios. (Disney is the parent company behind the sunny Pride and Prejudice redux Fire Island, released to streaming this past June, and Universal is throwing its weight behind a full theatrical release for Bros, out this Friday on some 3,000 screens).
There's surely a smart grad-school thesis, or at least a decent term paper, about the convergence of those two films and what it means in the larger scheme of things. But after seeing Bros — directed by Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and starring comedian Billy Eichner, with whom he cowrote the script — it almost seems more relevant to view it through the lens of the Apatow Extended Universe (Judd's is the first name listed as a producer here, the same honorific he held for Trainwreck and Bridesmaids, and the poster isn't shy about calling that out). Make no mistake, Bros is a very gay movie, from its wry one-liners about poppers and Provincetown to its intimate if hardly explicit love scenes. But it's also one cast very much in the mold of the best kind of Apatow: whip-smart, soft at heart, full of bravura free-form character bits and cul-de-sacs.
Courtesy of TIFF
It doesn't feel like a drastic stretch for Eichner here that he plays Bobby Lieber, a 40-year-old Manhattanite and "cis white male homosexual" who uses his rat-a-tat humor as both a weapon and a shield. Bobby has a successful podcast, The 11th Brick at Stonewall, and a job as head curator at the world's first dedicated LBGTQ+ history museum; he's also proudly single, preferring a streamlined life of platonic friendships and passing hookups (there's a great, perfectly encapsulated Grindr interlude). And then fate steps in, nipples out, in the form of an improbably hot estate lawyer named Aaron (Brothers & Sisters' Luke McFarlane) who sidles up to him one night at a club.
Aaron is pretty much all the things Bobby is not — sexually confident, CrossFit ripped, happily hetero-basic in his tastes. (Loves: Garth Brooks, The Hangover, his mom; dislikes: divas, defensive sarcasm, wearing shirts). For them both, it's flirty antagonism at first sight, and dragging them each out of their respective comfort zones provides much of the narrative heft and pull in the screenplay, along with several inspired standalone set pieces. (The actors who drop by for those, including Bowen Yang, Debra Messing, Kristin Chenoweth, and Harvey Fierstein, make the most of their brief cameos, leaving glittering trails of famous-person stardust and bitchery in their wake).
Like most rom-com protagonists, Bobby is a little bit of a mess: boldly soapboxing about self-acceptance and gay history one minute, and sabotaging himself into oblivion the next. And Aaron is an idealized hot-beef dreamboat, a square-jawed pinup with hidden depths. (There's a reason he thrived in so many Hallmark movies.) But the jokes about Schitts Creek and Maroon 5 are sublime, and there's a tenderness and vulnerability that the story also earns, bit by bit, between the high-camp roundelays of museum meetings and spontaneous trips to P-town. "Love is love is love" is a facile phrase that beatific straight people, smug in their allyship, keep pushing on Bobby, and he hates it. Maybe he's right: Bros wears its queerness proudly, without stooping to cater overmuch to whatever elusive demographics might qualify it as a "crossover" success. But good comedy doesn't hang on pronouns or preferences; like this sweet, sharp movie, all it has to be is itself. Grade: B+