I’m a ride-or-die fan of Hulu’s brilliant and wildly underappreciated Difficult People, in which series creator/writer/star extraordinaire Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner played best friends against the world, two struggling comedians who hate everyone but each other. Difficult People is a delightful joke machine with an astonishingly high joke-per-minute ratio, but it also presents two very complex characters who have a lot of self-hatred and anxiety to come to terms with. The show always found time for the humanity amongst all the jokes, the real people inside the Difficult People. I’m overwhelmingly relieved to say that Eichner’s first leading role in a Hollywood movie, Bros, a gay romantic comedy which he co-wrote, makes good on every promise Difficult People made, and leaves you very excited for what he might do in the future.
Bros follows Bobby Leiber (Eichner), a successful podcaster who is also a queer historian, and is on the board of directors at the country’s first LGBTQ+ museum, which keeps pushing back its opening because nobody on this board can agree on anything. Bobby has always been alone and he prides himself on his independence (really, his cynicism). That is until he meet-cutes with Aaron (Luke MacFarlane), described to him as “very hot and very boring”. Aaron has also shied away from actual romantic relationships his whole life. But the two start to connect in a way neither could have expected.
Bros does not disappoint. It’s outrageously, laugh-so-hard-you-can’t-breathe hilarious, deliriously romantic, and exceptionally well-acted. Like I said, I’ve been a big fan of Eichner’s for a long time. Most people know him as the guy yelling at people on the New York City streets, due to his massively successful web and then TV series, Billy on the Street, or the guy yelling at people in the later seasons of Parks and Recreation. But Eichner has always been so much more than that guy. I was nervous about Bros, because I always want good things for him. He knocks it out of the park and makes it look effortless. Honestly, I feel like this could be a very strong contender for Best Screenplay this year.
Bros is the kind of rom-com that’s clearly taken a lot of notes from the classics it references – there’s strong Nora Ephron and Richard Curtis energy here – but it also feels like this new, exciting and impossibly fresh thing, like nothing you’ve seen before. Eichner and co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller pull off the remarkable task of making a queer romantic comedy palatable to mainstream audiences, while also making it incredibly specific in every way.
I’m relieved and utterly thrilled to report that Billy Eichner is a movie star, full stop. He’s incredible here. The comedy is easy for him, but he’s got some extended dramatic monologues where he gets to be raw and vulnerable, and this character becomes more human and more relatable. These scenes are beautifully executed and bracingly true. They certainly feel autobiographical. He has a magnetic and captivating chemistry with Luke MacFarlane, and the viewer cares about this relationship and both people in it right from the get-go.
MacFarlane, a regular in Hallmark Channel movies (which Bros also pokes fun at), also feels like he could be a full-blown movie star. He presents as the blandly attractive hunk, but he’s got a lot more on his mind and he’s obviously terrified to let anyone in. Once we really get to know Aaron, he’s every bit as compelling as Bobby. In a perfect world, both leading men here would become A-list stars after this movie. But I don’t have enough faith in the world and Hollywood to say that’s a given.
Directed by and co-written by Nicholas Stoller of Neighbors and Forgetting Sarah Marshall fame, and produced by Judd Apatow, Bros certainly has the feel of some of the best comedies produced in the past decade. Like Apatow’s Trainwreck or The King of Staten Island, it feels almost autobiographical for its star, but Bros isn’t too long and doesn’t wear out its welcome like those movies did for me. If I had one nitpick, I would say the editing is a little wonky and we could have polished it up a bit. We have a lot of jump cuts that don’t fully make sense, and some scenes where the camerawork needs to breathe a little bit more. But overall, this isn’t a big enough issue to not make Bros one of the best films Judd Apatow has ever been associated with.
For a movie about gay men coming to terms with their own internalized homophobia, it’s a surprise how utterly joyful this film is. It handles the more nuanced, dramatic material extremely well, but ultimately feels like a giant celebration. One that could appeal to a wider audience than Eichner could’ve imagined. The romance is swoon-worthy and undeniably charming. The laughs are big and broad and constant. And yet there are no big set pieces designed solely for laughs – everything feels genuine and germane to the mission this film has set out for itself. Bros is the best comedy I’ve seen this year, and it will very likely end up on my top 10 this year. It’s simultaneously a warm hug of a film and something unprecedented and revolutionary. It’s the kind of thing that genuinely makes me feel excited about going to the movies again.