The celebrity appeal of Billy Eichner has always rested on his outrageous causticity. The host of the viral series Billy on the Street, Eichner would barge around New York, holding a microphone in one hand and often dragging a celebrity with the other, barking questions at passersby. He’d typically goad them into rudeness by demanding that they spill pop-culture takes or simply “name a woman!” I’ve enjoyed Eichner’s work for many years, and in that time, I have consistently known him as a five-minute burst of comic intensity. One of the joys of his new film, Bros, is watching him successfully expand that charm over a nearly two-hour running time.
Eichner stars in and co-wrote Bros with its director, Nicholas Stoller. The movie is quite momentous—the first wide theatrical release from a major studio to feature an entirely LGBTQ principal cast, it offers a rare, frank depiction of sexuality. But even without those breakthroughs, Bros is a breath of fresh air for cinemas in 2022, given how few romantic comedies make it to the big screen amid the crowd of action blockbusters. These days, rom-coms frequently get punted directly to streaming or, at best, simultaneous releases (think Marry Me, I Want You Back, and Fire Island in this year alone), no matter the subject matter or movie stars involved. Bros is a robust entry in the genre, and Eichner a terrific, surprisingly introspective leading man.
Bobby Lieber (Eichner’s character) overflows with the actor’s hectic energy. Like many Judd Apatow–produced comedies, including The Big Sick and The King of Staten Island, Bros has one foot in reality; the lead has mined his personal life and translated it to the public via a recognizable rom-com structure. Eichner’s protagonist grapples with his worthiness as a romantic partner. On the surface, Bros is driven by the charming courtship between Bobby and a handsome lawyer named Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), but the film’s true stakes rest on Bobby’s own recognition of himself as someone deserving of committed love.
I like my romantic comedies short and sweet—When Harry Met Sally runs for 95 minutes and doesn’t waste a single one of them—but Apatow’s productions have always been long, emphasizing shaggy sequences of improvised chat and letting the plot meander in the name of realism. There’s a succinct, punchy 90-minute rom-com within Bros that would just focus on Bobby and Aaron overcoming their respective commitment phobias as they fall in love with each other. But I found the narrative roominess forgivable, because Bros’ big tangents mostly wrestle with the curious idea that gay romance still feels like a milestone in today’s cinema landscape.
Simply put, why has it taken so long for a movie like this to exist? Bros is fairly cheerful and matter-of-fact about gay sex, thank God; it doesn’t seem explicitly tailored to satisfy—without shocking—a straight audience, in search of more box-office dollars. When Bros begins, Bobby is a 40-year-old who’s never been in a serious relationship. He variously blames this on not wanting to conform to heteronormative expectations, oppressive body standards he thinks he can’t live up to, and the general foolishness of New York’s dating pool. His analysis is insightful, but the script allows for self-critique as well; much of Bros feels like a funny therapy session.
Bobby is a podcaster and the chairman of a committee tasked with opening the nation’s first-ever LGBTQ museum. He’s both burdened and empowered by the history he’s steeped in, and when he starts dating Aaron, he gets somewhat overwhelmed by how to square their small-scale differences with his broader view of how gay culture should operate. A good portion of Bobby’s journey is about rejecting his preconceived notions. Macfarlane is sweet and appealing as the ripped, disarmingly chill Aaron, but he’s inscrutable as well, struggling to fit himself into Bobby’s life and to articulate just why they might not work in the long term. So many rom-coms rely on tiresome plot twists to keep their characters apart before getting them together, but all of the ups and downs in Bros’ romance feel emotionally necessary.
Alongside that catharsis, happily, there are plenty of actual good jokes—something that a number of comedies strangely forget to emphasize these days. Eichner is among the best at firing off zippy, acidic one-liners (his quick wit made the Hulu series Difficult People a blast), and Bros never lets scenes get too heady or polemical without slipping in a few funny asides. That balance, and Eichner’s generally hyperactive onscreen style, keeps the momentum going for Bros’ whole arc without sacrificing any of the movie’s poignancy.