Review Roundup: Critics Show Their Love of 'Bros' after Toronto Premiere

Friday September 23, 2022
Originally published on September 11, 2022

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

"Bros," Billy Eichner's queer rom-com, doesn't hit theaters until September 30, but the film was screened at the Toronto Film Festival and is already getting the kind of reviews that make it a must-see.

What has made the film a breakthrough is how Eichner, who co-produced, co-wrote (with director Nicholas Stoller) and stars in the film, insisted the cast be all-gay. (The exceptions being Debra Messing and Kristin Chenoweth, whom Stoller calls "allies" of the community.) It is a first for a studio-produced, Hollywood comedy.

The film's plot follows Eichner as a museum curator and aspiring film writer who is commissioned to write a rom-com about a gay couple. But along the way, fiction begins to reflect his reality when he falls for a hunky lawyer (Luke Macfarlane). Featured in the cast are Ts Madison, Guillermo Diaz, Bowen Yang, Harvey Fierstein, Monica Raymond, Symone, and Becca Blackwell.

Perhaps because Universal believes it has a hit on its hands, the film was screened early for some critics, who responded with mostly raves. At its first iteration on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 92% rating based on 12 reviews. Here is a sample:

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

At Variety, Peter Debruge writes: "'Bros' doesn't feel like that," citing that there have been countless, indie gay romances before it. "The difference in what we'll call 'Billy Eichner's Hollywood Screen Kiss' is that it centers a gay character, instead of just using him as sassy comic support. Beyond that, a cute, cranky, super-articulate and incredibly self-absorbed comedian has gone and made a movie in which a thinly veiled version of himself wrestles with whether or not he wants to be in a relationship. If that sounds like every Woody Allen movie ever, or a bunch of Billy Crystal movies, or even the last few Judd Apatow productions, you wouldn't be wrong — except that here, some of the dialogue scenes are set during four-way orgies, because otherwise the movie would be rated PG-13 and you might as well be watching 'Love, Simon.'"

What makes the film unique, Debruge concludes, is the way it looks into the intricacies of men-on-men sex. "This is the territory where "Bros" breaks new ground, since the "rules" of gay rom-coms have yet to be codified: like whether having someone's undivided attention is a turn-off or a good thing, and what each character needs to feel appreciated and adored. Certainly, there aren't many straight love stories where a meet-cute is followed by one of the parties going off to shag someone else."

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

At IndieWire, critic Ryan Lattanzio praises the film for being radical while being a consistent Hollywood product. "The actual breaking of ground is that the cast is top-to-toe gay, gay, gay... and that's pretty much where it stops. The screenplay's contours are broadly conventional, but that's a good thing. When we talk about wanting to be seen, a lot of us really mean that what we want is a gay version of our '90s rom-coms when the genre was at its best. "Bros" fits the bill."

Describing Eichner's character as "rapier-witted, chronically single podcast host" who is "one of those chronic dating app users" who unexpectedly finds himself with someone he considers out-of-his-league, hunky Luke Macfarlane. The film follows their relationship as it moves from sex to something else, but is such a move possible in the age of dating apps?

"As they move from lust into something like love, the movie makes an unfussy show about the particular messy politics of gay sex. A scene in which Aaron asks Bobby to top him is sexy and touching. Other signposts of the gay experience include a trip to Provincetown that springs more than a few cheeky cameos, the threesomes and foursomes, and the eventual question of opening up the relationship.

"Things take a darker turn here, but 'Bros' is very much interested in being a rom-com with a happy ending rather than something edgier. That's by design, as Eichner has firmly said he was not trying to make an 'indie' film here. This is a big, glossy Hollywood package in mainstream clothes — even despite the gay sex, which isn't especially graphic in any sense."

He concludes, giving the film a score of B, with: "Eichner's gay homage to the great American romcoms of yesterday looks and feels exactly like them, and that's groundbreaking enough. We'll take that any day over a movie that tries too hard to pander to gay audiences. This one just hears and sees us."

Luke Macfarlane, Billy Eichner, Brock Ciarlelli, and Ryan Faucett in "Bros"
Luke Macfarlane, Billy Eichner, Brock Ciarlelli, and Ryan Faucett in "Bros"  (Source: iMDb)

Over at the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney was positive, but had some issues.

"Funny, sweet and occasionally pointed, Nicholas Stoller's 'Bros' (cowritten by star Billy Eichner) is a gay rom-com with a personality crisis. Though it makes lots of jokes at the expense of corporate types who would co-opt gay culture for prestige or water it down for straight consumption, it slowly reveals itself to be almost exactly like every guy-girl love story that has made money in the last thirty years. Described as satire in TIFF materials and elsewhere, it's anything but. Forget movies that want to squeeze non-straight love into a heteronormative mode: Eichner wants his love story to be even more formula-bound — to be Ephronormative.

Rooney praises Eichner's performance — "let's get it out of the way, proves totally equipped to be a feature's co-leading man," describing his character, Bobby, as being "emotionally unavailable" until he sees Macfarlane's Aaron at a club. They begin to have sexual encounters (including a foursome), before finding themselves a couple, but with problems. "One long, emotional monologue near the beach in Provincetown (right after an amusing Bowen Yang cameo) gets the job done, showing that Eichner can act and airing a lifetime's worth of Bobby's resentment over being told he was too 'flamboyant' to succeed."

But where "Bros" is a bit of a letdown for Rooney is how it aims to please studio executives. "For a movie so frank (but not gratuitously so) about man-man, man-man-man and man-man-man-man sex, it's peculiar that Stoller's Forgetting Sarah Marshall had more penises in it than this film. Presumably, some execs were giving notes about exactly how gay a movie can be and still open on 3,000 screens. Maybe the same execs who inspired mockery at the film's beginning."

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

By far the most favorable review comes from The Daily Beast from Nick Schager. "'Bros' is a landmark film. Not only for being the first gay rom-com produced and distributed by a major American studio (Universal), but for being a perfectly formulaic gay rom-com that starts with a bawdy bang and then becomes more standard-issue (and preachy) as it nears the finish line."

Praising its "groundbreaking pedigree,: Schager continues: "Namely, it has a steady stream of laughs, most of them courtesy of its headliner, who employs his trademark grumpy-catty-hostile persona for a snarky and sermon-y saga about finding yourself and, in the process, your ideal (if unlikely) complementary half."

He continues: "The film has Bobby periodically expound on the need for LGBTQ+ voices to be heard and, just as crucially, for them to not be silenced by requests to "tone down" their flamboyance for straight compatriots. Those moments are true to the story at hand, yet they're not always gracefully woven into the action proper, highlighted by a creaky Bobby beach monologue about the discrimination he's faced, and fought against, since childhood.

"'Bros' embraces its queerness while explaining why doing that is important, and if the latter can occasionally make the film feel like an ABC Afterschool Special, it's consistently sharp when mining Bobby's rollercoaster existence juggling one-night stands, professional headaches and pesky newfound emotions that might just be—spoiler alert!—love."

Schager concludes: "'Bros' walks its talk about wanting to celebrate the authentic realities of LGBTQ+ Americans in all their messy, contradictory glory, and though it does that with a few too many italicized speeches about its intentions, its sincerity ultimately wins out."

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

Benjamin Lee in the British newspaper The Guardian gave the film four stars out of five. "There's a tension throughout 'Bros' between making a gay film and making The Gay Film We Need Right Now, the micro vs the macro, and it's something that takes Eichner, and co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller some time to iron out. In the opening stretch, a few too many lines of dialogue feel closer to Twitter takes, plainly stated "the thing about ... is" witticisms, a strain to always be "saying something" rather than just speaking. But Eichner's confidence in how he chooses to get his many points across soon grows, embedded within the plot with more dexterity and when the balance between the rom, the com and the commentary works, 'Bros' really flies."

About the cast, Lee writes: "Eichner also manages to make a surprisingly convincing segue from comedy bit-player to leading man, not just delivering on the many funny moments (toning down his trademark manic delivery is key) but doing a more-than-competent job at the messier stuff too (there's a particularly effective monologue on the beach in Provincetown about being seen as 'too gay'). Inevitably Macfarlane's bro gets a little less texture and at times his existence and some of his dialogue borders on fan fiction (he tells Bobby how incredible he is on numerous occasions but the same is rarely said back to him) but the actor, a Hallmark Channel stalwart, makes for a charming vision of what a dream boyfriend could be. The supporting cast, made almost entirely of LGBTQ+ actors (bar two smart cameos from Debra Messing and Kristin Chenoweth and some other surprises at the end), are strong in small bursts and the scenes of Eichner warring with other group representatives in the fight to open an LGBTQ+ museum are very amusing."

He concludes: "It's big and clever in a way that so few films of this scale are these days, a pleasure to be shepherded through the easy motions of a romantic comedy by people who know what they're doing for once, and manages to walk a difficult tightrope without falling, despite the heft of baggage. It might not be The Gay Film We Need Right Now (is anything worthy of that title?) but it'll be one that many of us will want instead."

Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner on the set of "Bros"
Luke Macfarlane and Billy Eichner on the set of "Bros"  (Source: IMDb)

Of this first crop of reviews, the only distaff one came from Marya E. Gates writing for RogerEbert.com, who gave the film two-and-a-half stars.

"(I)t is really is great to see a mainstream Hollywood film of this magnitude with this kind of representation from throughout the LGBTQ community. However, it defeats its own message of bringing queer history and queer life out of the margins when it centers the love story between two cis, conventionally attractive white gay men," she writes.

"'Bros' is clearly a labor of love for Eichner, and as a belligerent bisexual (petulant pansexual?) myself, I laughed a great deal at the comedy. As a commitment-phobe who found romance late in life, I was moved by the core relationship. And as a country girl, I felt like the running Garth Brooks joke was tailored specifically for me. But there's also something at odds with Eichner's mission to bring queerness, gay sex, and gay dating in all its texture to mainstream Hollywood studio-backed cinema, while in the same breath sanitizing queerness to be palatable to straight culture."