‘Bros’ Is a Rom-Com Whose Time Has Come

Billy Eichner’s character in Nicholas Stoller’s fizzy romantic comedy Bros is what you’d call, in relationship parlance, a handful. Bobby Leiber is a high-strung smart-aleck who, at 40, has never been in love—he admits as much on his podcast, where he covers gay history for an audience of young people who weren’t even tadpoles when the AIDS crisis erupted. Bobby also has a great job, as part of a team charged with designing and opening a new museum dedicated to LGBTQ+ history in New York. He’s serious about his work, and overly serious about everything else. He’s quick with a cutdown wisecrack, and his face is set in a perpetual limburger scowl. That’s his everyday expression, at work or when he’s hooking up with guys he’s met on Grindr. And it’s the look he’s wearing when, at a party, he meets the insanely adorable Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), who seems at least mildly intrigued by Bobby’s scrawny, nerdy demeanor.

That’s the setup for Bros, which was cowritten by Eichner and Stoller, and you’ll notice that even though the film is being billed as a gay romantic comedy, the mechanics aren’t much different from the rom-coms we’re already used to. Eichner is the first openly gay man to write and star in his own big-studio comedy. (The film is being released by Universal.) And admittedly, there are certain erotic setups you don’t see every day in straight romantic comedies: Bobby and Aaron’s first date ends with Bobby joining Aaron, reluctantly, as the fourth in a three-way hookup Aaron had tentatively planned for that evening, an awkward setup that Eichner plays for laughs.

Read more: Billy Eichner Has Been Waiting His Whole Life for This Moment

But what’s wonderful about Bros is how un-different it is. The bewilderment of early love, the insecurities, the confusion over what sex “means,” or doesn’t—all of that is universal, which is exactly the point. First Bobby and Aaron flirt a little, awkwardly. Eventually they go on a date, though neither of them wants to call it that. They don’t sleep together right away—that would be too intimate. (This is where the threesome-turned-awkward-foursome comes in.) Instead, in the days following, Bobby and Aaron play cat-and-mouse via text messaging. It takes forever for them to get into bed, just the two of them, and even then, Bobby nearly sabotages the relationship with his own pepper spray of neuroses, chief among them his insistence that a sizzling hottie like Aaron could never be attracted to a guy like him. Meanwhile, it’s completely clear that Aaron thinks Bobby—supersmart, pale and gangly, fast with a hilarious putdown—is awesome.

Aaron is the sweet one, with calendar-fireman good looks, and Macfarlane vests him with layers of affable charm, though he has his insecurities too. Aaron works in probate law, and it’s not making him happy. (His workplace angst does set the stage for a great gag: he instructs a client, unsure about where to bequeath his money, to close his eyes and “think about the person who means the most to you.” The man gives it a few seconds, and, blinking awake, says, “Cher.”) There’s also some awkwardness with Aaron’s family: they know he’s gay, but still, when they meet Bobby for the first time, Aaron begs him to “tone it down.” The screening audience I saw the film with gasped at that one: They, and I, wanted to tell Bobby to run—but Aaron, kind but confused, and ever-so-cute, would be hard for anyone to run away from.

As with the best romantic comedies, there are serious underpinnings here. In a new relationship, we’re always asking, “Who am I? Whom do I want to be? Am I trying to change myself to fit what I think is this new person’s ideal?” To watch Bobby run through those questions for himself is amusing, but it’s also a little heartrending. Eichner is famous for his long-running comedy series Billy on the Street, which began as a Funny Or Die experiment and eventually landed on Netflix. Eichner would race up and down the streets of New York—often accompanied by a guest like Paul Rudd or Chris Evans—and accost random strangers with trivia questions or other off-the-cuff queries. (In one episode, he dashes up to a bewildered pedestrian and shoves a petition under his nose, “to remove Kevin Spacey from homosexuality and add Chris Evans.”) Eichner’s style is mildly assaultive and still, at its heart, good-natured. He’s also hilarious, because even though it may seem that his crabbiness is directed at his unsuspecting marks, his impatience with humanity is really a kind of self-criticism. Overcaffeinated overthinkers are always their own worst enemies, and he’s in on that joke.

Read more: 20 of the Sweetest, Funniest, and Most Outrageous Meet-Cutes in Rom-Com History

With Bros, Eichner spins that persona into something more complex, and just as funny. He thinks fast and he moves fast, and as a director, Stoller—whose credits as a director include Neighbors and Forgetting Sarah Marshall—has no trouble keeping up. In one early scene, as Bobby and Aaron are just getting to know one another and strolling through New York, a bee invades Bobby’s personal space. It lands on his shirt; he freaks out. But Aaron calmly removes the precious little pollinating interloper and sets it free. Bobby is in awe, yet not at a loss for words: “You’re like a grown-up gay Boy Scout and I’m like whatever happens to Evan Hansen.” He’s sure of his smarts, but unsure about everything else. That uncertainty about “everything else” is the motor of classic romantic comedy, a tradition that Bros steps into easily. Love, like bees, can sting. But without it, we’re doomed.

'Bros' Is a Rom-Com Whose Time Has Come

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