Review: Hilarious 'Bros' Exceeds Expectations

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Thursday September 29, 2022

Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"
Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"  (Source:IMDb)

Perhaps the best way to approach "Bros" is to stop reading this review and just go see it. The less you know about this smart, winning comedy the better. It does, though, prove you can teach an old Hollywood meme new tricks. In this case it is a fresh spin on the rom-com that succeeds by simply being authentic in its depiction of contemporary queer life.

As written by Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller (Eichner also stars and Stoller directs), "Bros" never lets up on its laughs, even when the romance inevitably sours (this is, after all, a traditional rom-com); nor does it sanitize queer culture, hookups and all, in its pursuit for a general audience. And even then it doesn't lose its sense of humor. When Eichner has sex with Luke Macfarlane, the sequence remains hot while poking fun at their kinks. Did Meg Ryan ever do poppers in one of her rom-coms?

Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"
Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"  (Source: IMDb)

Eichner plays Bobby Lieber, a ferociously queer gay podcaster on the cusp of professional success. He has been named the director of an LGBTQ+ history museum with a board culled from every letter of the LGBTQ acronym. He is also ferociously single, at least he claims (In some ways, he's cousin to the equally commitment-phobic Bobby from Stephen Sondheim's "Company"). His resolve is tested when he meets Aaron (Macfarlane), an A-list gay who looks like he spends his life Crossfit training. On the other hand, Bobby did his training in the queer history trenches where he learned to quip like Sandra Bernhard. Eichner effectively brings the cutting humor and dismissive snark he displayed in "Billy on the Street" and "Difficult People." This makes him the funniest person in the room, and likely the smartest; and, dare I say it, akin to the character Woody Allen held the copyright on for decades. And here his plot is reminiscent of "Annie Hall" — born New Yorker meets naive out-of-towner. They meet cute, with the shirtless, buff Aaron playing hide-and-seek on a dance floor only to get confronted by the angry Bobby with a kiss. It sets the stage for the dynamic that drives their relationship — Aaron being shocked at Bobby's bluntness and his fearless queerness.

Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"
Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner in "Bros"  (Source: IMDb)

Their romance unfolds against a consistently funny skewering of contemporary queer life. Eichner's knowing eye gives him a full-range of targets — from gym queens, Grindr hookups, Hallmark movies (something of an in-joke because Macfarlane was a star of them until he came out), and the "bros" of the title. That came from a character that Eichner created for "Billy on the Street" and finds its way into the film toward the end in a very funny hookup scene. There is quite a bit of sex in the film, but it's always handled with humor. Where the film becomes serious is when Bobby describes his self-styled bravado to Aaron on the beach in Provincetown, explaining how he was told (again reflecting real-life) he was too gay to make it as an actor. The success of "Bros" shows how wrong they were. Eichner not only lives up to expectations, but exceeds them, showing a sweet vulnerability as a leading man and consummate comic skill as a writer.

What makes "Bros" so endearing is the chemistry between Eichner and Macfarlane. As Aaron, Macfarlane takes a gay stereotype — a gym queen and successful professional dissatisfied with his life — and gives him remarkable dimension. At first, he is a bit of a cipher — a very photogenic one to be sure, but guarded and not fully defined. It is not until his family comes into view and he reverts to his uber-masculine stereotype that gives the film its title. There is a very funny scene with a lovesick Macfarlane and his brother (Jai Rodriguez, quite good) in the midst of a divorce that would be right out of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Familiar faces pop up in the film. Amongst them, Bowen Yang plays a self-absorbed television mogul made rich by his pioneering queer programming and Debra Messing plays herself in a self-reverential bit where she tells the world she is not every gay's best friend.

Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in "Bros"
Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in "Bros"  (Source: IMDb)

directed both "Neighbors" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," two of the best comedies to come out of the Judd Apatow brand (he co-produced the film). His brand of sentimental, accessible comedy with a touch of raunch is on full display in "Bros," but Stoller takes it to a new level and "Bros" is a step above his previous work. In all likelihood, when Oscar time comes around his work will be ignored, which is a shame — making a comedy work as well as this one requires exceptional talent and skill often ignored by the Academy for more serious fare. But both he and Eichner can be satisfied with having made a Zeitgeist comedy — like "Clueless" and "Tootsie" before it — show how the best comedies succeed by not really trying.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].