Billy Eichner brings strong “Billy on the Street” energy to his first film, the laugh-out-loud gay romance “Bros,” which he co-wrote with director Nicholas Stoller.
When you’ve got license to poke fun at acronyms and the different priorities across the wide spectrum of gay sex and romantic love, you might have the best shot of anyone who ever attempted to film a “non-hetero-normative” gay romantic comedy.
And when you’re famous for your breathless, almost angry pop-culture puncturing/gay-life celebrating patter, the results can be hilarious, if not exactly warm and cuddly.
Eichner piles decades of issues, angst and agenda into his character Bobby, a high-flying figure in New York and America’s gay scene. He’s an author, activist and popular podcaster who ridicules “Queer Eye,” which he auditioned for, and Hollywood, which wouldn’t let him write a “real” gay romantic comedy, because straight people can’t see “that our relationships are different.”
“Bros,” which follows Bobby through his efforts to get America’s “first LGBTQ+ history museum” off the ground, takes us into Bobby’s struggle to figure out if he wants something more than the shallow Grindr/shirtless meat market/ polyamorous hook-up culture he’s wholly invested in.
Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) is what has him thinking these thoughts. They lock eyes across a crowded club, exchange pleasantries about how “stupid” gay men are and how good they are at branding themselves as witty, and then shirtless, peacocking Aaron disappears just as Bobby is thinking there’s a kiss on its way.
That’s the running gag of this relationship and the movie. Insecure “sunken chest” Bobby isn’t able to quite close the romantic deal with hunky, roid-ripped Aaron, who sees every sexual situation as another item on the smorgasbord. Then again, is he clever enough to keep up with Bobby?
“I like someone who’s frail and won’t stop talking.”
This gets in Bobby’s head and interferes with his efforts to meditate the competing ideas of the spectrum-representing board of the museum. The bitchy bi, transgender, lesbian and “+” people on this LGBTQ+ crew won’t go for his “first gay president” pitch for a tribute to Abraham Lincoln.
Bobby’s cliched friends and support system are rooting for him, but in accordance with rom com convenience, his parents are dead and there’s no messy family to contend with. Well, maybe Aaron’s.
As Aaron continues to hook up with lusty jocks and gay couples –“thrupples” gags aplenty — Bobby struggles to cope with his first real interest in that mythic status of under 40 New York gay men — monogamy.
Riffs on the novelistic qualities of Grindr texts — “Whassup?” — the widespread acceptance of gay life and gay mores by straight culture (gay “Hallheart” Christmas movies), and the difference between gay generations (“We had AIDS, they had ‘Glee!'”) abound and amuse.
The zingers play into Eichner’s manic, mouthy TV persona — on steroided outdoorsy “tops.”
“They’re like grownup gay Boy Scouts and I’m whatever happened to Evan Hansen!”
An attempted love note — “What’re you writing, lyrics for Maroon 5?”
A walk that ends at his apartment door — “Like the bearded lady in ‘The Greatest Showman,’ ‘this is me!”
There’s lots of sex, sometimes played for laughs and often not limited to just two consenting adults
“Gay sex was more fun when straight people were uncomfortable with it!”
The contrast between Eichner’s polished, breathless, amusingly angry riffs and the acting around him calls attention to itself. He’s not an inviting presence and the performance lacks the acting tools that let the viewer in and make us warm to this relationship and root for this couple.
The contrast between what he’s doing and Macfarlane’s performance — Luke M. has a LOT of Hallmark Xmas hits in his credits– is striking and not flattering. Comedy veteran Stoller (“Neighbors,” “Get Him to the Greek”) can’t help Eichner find his sweet spot, if he has one.
The supporting cast might have sparkled brighter had more attention been paid there. Bowen Yang and Jim Rash have their moments.
The film’s energy flags as the picture settles into a long, less bitchy/bubbly second hour. The riffs and one-liners thin out and cameos take center stage. Debra Messing finds a few laughs, Harvey Fierstein has none written for him.
In the end “Bros” seems to hit a wall as it sends up Rom Com conventions while doggedly making the point that they don’t really apply here.
As in, whatever’s going on is funny enough, but is this really a “happy ending?”
Rating: R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use
Cast: Billy Eichner, Luke MacFarlane, Kristin Chenoweth, Dot-Marie Jones, Kenan Thompson, Harvey Fierstein, Debra Messing and Amy Schumer.
Credits: Directed by Nicholas Stoller, scripted by Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller.
Running time: 1:55