'Bros' is a major studio first: An R-rated gay rom com. And it's good

Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune (TNS)

“Bros” can’t win, probably, but it’s enjoyable, especially in its first hour, and the second hour has enough going on, and enough elemental romantic rooting interest, to excuse some detours.

As a probable first — it’s being marketed as the first major studio gay rom-com in the genially raunchy R-rated tradition of “Trainwreck,” “Bridesmaids” and “Knocked Up” — already it has spawned legions of homophobic trolls online. Since its Toronto International Film Festival premiere, it has also drawn more reasonable skeptics taking issue with its deployment of straight narrative tropes, right down to the montages, made all too palatable (the argument goes) for cis mainstream enjoyment.

Clearly, the movie is too much not enough, and not enough too much. “Bros” is also sharp-witted and quick on its feet. Lanky, tightly wound Billy Eichner successfully modulates his “Billy on the Street” routine for a new context, and a comfortable expansion on the performer we saw in Hulu’s “Difficult People.”

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Bobby, his character in “Bros,” is a successful podcast host and newly appointed director of an LGBTQ museum, about to open but already in financial straits. It’s consuming, this endlessly demanding work life. Bobby has had his share of Grindr hookups along the way, but he’s wary of anything too demanding, either of others or of himself.

The same goes for Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), the small-town-boy-in-Manhattan beefcake attorney Bobby meets at a club one night. A dozen perplexing pop culture quips later, Aaron and Bobby sense that, despite their odd-couple differences, there is something there. “Bros” is about how these two men find it, back off from it and finally figure out if it’s worth it.

Luke Macfarlane, left, and  Billy Eichner star in "Bros." The movie is playing at Regal West Manchester, Queensgate Movies 13 and Hanover Movies 16.

There’s a testy meet-the-parents scene, a good one, with Amanda Bearse of “Married… with Children” as Aaron’s straight-laced mother getting into it with Bobby about how soon is too soon for schoolchildren and sex ed. Here, Eichner handles the shift into a different sort of human comedy with real finesse. A later Provincetown, Massachusetts, sequence (a highlight of the somewhat attenuated second half) has Bobby revealing to Aaron a few clues to his emotional shell.

None of this is new, and wasn’t new when Amy Schumer made “Trainwreck.” Much of “Bros” is pretty conventional. The more specific the satiric targets and relationship insights, the better it becomes. At its strongest, the film interrogates various kinds of gay masculinity and queer imaging, and treats both Bobby and Aaron as works in progress, as we all are.

At one point Bobby lies on his couch at home, alone, watching another tiptoe-out-of-the-closet Hallmark holiday special (here relabeled “Hallheart”). The joke is so deft, you pray for it to turn into a recurring gag, or at least a two-parter. And then your prayers are answered. Nicholas Stoller, who found success previously directing “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Get Him to the Greek” and others, has a broad streak, but also, more rewardingly, a dry one. A brief foursome scene — Aaron favors a wider range of partners and arrangements than Bobby — is introduced in a visually deadpan fashion, as a sly reveal.

Luke Macfarlane, right, and Billy Eichner star in "Bros." The movie is playing at Regal West Manchester, Queensgate Movies 13 and Hanover Movies 16.

Eichner makes “Bros” easy company, even when the character isn’t easy, because he knows there is more than one side to even the most rabid pop culture fiend. And more than one way to score a laugh.‘BROS’3 stars (out of 4)MPAA rating: R (for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use)Running time: 1:55