While watching a deceptively touching scene in Bros (Nicholas Stoller’s new comedy that just premiered here at the Toronto International Film Festival) between Billy Eichner’s Bobby and Luke Macfarlane’s Aaron – we see the two men, shirtless from the waist up, embracing in an intimate moment before the camera pans out to reveal both men are receiving oral sex from two additional men in the room – I couldn’t help but think, “I really can’t wait for Ted Cruz to accidentally see Bros.”
Look, other than the pandemic years, I have been at every TIFF since 2011. Bros premiered at the Princess of Wales theater on Friday night, one of those big majestic places with two balconies. I have seen a lot of movies in that place, and I’ve never experienced the amount of almost constant, uproarious laughter like I did with Bros. Now, there are probably a few reasons for this. Toronto doesn’t accept a lot of mainstream studio comedies produced by Judd Apatow. So, yes, it makes sense there was a lot more laughter last night for Bros then there was for, say, The Master in 2012. Also, after two years away (TIFF had a subdued, smaller festival in 2021) it just felt like people were ready to laugh in a huge theater like this. And they did. So much so that I probably missed 20 percent of the dialogue over the laughter.
I have a friend who I won’t name who often tells me of his exploits as a gay single man living in New York City. These stories often involve drugs, multiple men, and eventual frustration. (While listening to these stories, I often find myself feeling very, very square.) I’m not going to pretend I have any idea what I’m talking about in that respect, but Bros very much captures the spirit of almost every story my friend has told me. And I’ve never really felt like that before. My friend’s stories are never really about serious subjects like wrestling about one’s identity (obviously important topics), they are almost always about orgies. Bros captures this in a way I’m not sure any studio movie has done before. (More on this in a bit.)
Bobby (Eichner) is a successful man living in New York City who is trying to raise money for a LGBTQ museum, but, alas, he can’t find love and is tired of seeing the same faces and impersonal hookups day after day on Grindr. (There are a lot of scenes of Eichner sending and receiving messages that just say, “Hey, what’s up?”) At a party, he spots Aaron (Macfarlane) an impossibly handsome man who loves Garth Brooks and would be more into talking about a Patriots game than hearing about a new museum opening. The two have an on again, off again, on again relationship that, at its core, follows the same traditional tropes of most romantic comedies, except there are a lot more scenes of men having sex with each other than, let’s say, the average moviegoer might be used to seeing. Trouble arises when Aaron runs into an old high school buddy, with his female fiancee, that Aaron used to have a crush on back in the day. In following days after, that friend comes out, which sets up a love triangle. Well, technically two love triangles. The one the three men make in bed together, then the much more complicated emotional love triangle that Bobby has more and more a problem with. Will these two finally get together in the end? We all kind of know what will happen, the concept here doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s just a much different-looking tire around that wheel.
Here’s a weird complaint, Bros might be too funny. I do wonder if Stoller and team were worried about how all this will play in some of the redder parts of the United States and decided to divert attention away from some of the steamier scenes with a nonstop brigade of jokes. In that there’s really not that much time to process a situation in a, “Oh wow, they showed that,” which will be immediately followed by Eichner being attacked by a bee. It really is joke after joke after joke, most delivered wonderfully by Eichner. And they sure landed in front of this big audience, but I do wonder how all that will play in a more subdued environment.
Bros is kind of positioning itself as a “first” in a lot of categories for a romantic comedy that centers on a relationship between two gay men. I have no idea what of that is true and what of that isn’t, but I do think it’s noteworthy a huge studio, Universal, is going to be putting Bros in thousands of theaters. I don’t know if this is “monumental,” or “well, it’s about time” or a combination of the two (probably a combination of the two), but it all does seem, at the very least, noteworthy.
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