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Movie review: 'Bros' has laughs, heart and poignant surprises

1/5
Luke Macfarlane (L) and Billy Eichner star in "Bros." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Luke Macfarlane (L) and Billy Eichner star in "Bros." Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Bros, in theaters Sept. 30, is a sweet and poignant romantic comedy. Co-writer and star Billy Eichner subversively layers LGBTQ history into the plot so audiences learn something while they laugh.

Bobby Lieber (Eichner) is a podcast host who gets a job running the LGBTQ+ Museum in New York. Bobby hooks up on Grindr but swears off dating.

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At a party, Bobby meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), another serial bachelor. Despite an abrasive meeting, they meet up again but resist officially dating.

Straight romantic comedies could learn something from Bros. Two people meeting is enough. You don't need any higher concept shenanigans than that.

But, the whole point of Bros is that it's not just the same heteronormative rom-com with two men in the lead. It is unique to the gay male experience, though plenty universal for anyone in love.

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Bobby's encounters on Grindr are funny and the frustration is real to anyone using any app to meet people. Bros also has the characters speak their text messages in voiceover, which effectively conveys the insincerity of the format.

It's nice to see a rom-com where the straight women are the supporting characters. The gay best friends have certainly paid their dues.

Bros allows Bobby and Aaron to be sexual, both comically and genuinely romantically. This is an R-rated comedy and that is for passion as well as F-bombs.

At his museum job, Bobby wants to illuminate the gay love stories that have been erased through history. As such, the film itself tells many of those historical gay stories.

Audiences can laugh at Bobby and Aaron's conversations, or one-off jokes about fake Hallmark Channel movies or podcast sponsors. Along the way, they'll learn about Abraham Lincoln's bisexuality.

A monologue Bobby tells Aaron about the resistance he faced to his gay expression sounds autobiographical. It's also universal because everybody with a unique point of view gets pressured to maintain the status quo.

And Bobby/Eicher is right that it still took too long for this. It's a win that we're now getting movies like Bros, Fire Island, Happiest Season and others, but it's also okay to feel a little exhausted fighting for representation and to know there's still more work to do.

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To his credit, Eichner lets Bobby be wrong. Not about LGBTQ issues but in his occasional lack of compassion for Aaron. There is room for both of them to grow.

Not everything in Bros is quite so organic. It's a little too pat when both Bobby and Aaron are completely self-aware that they're emotionally unavailable, as the emotionally unavailable usually are in much more denial.

Like most movies produced by Judd Apatow, Bros is about 20 minutes too long. A rom-com is still a 90-minute tale even if it's boy meets boy instead of boy meets girl.

And the parts that feel the most prolonged are not the comedic parts. As the formula inevitably works itself towards its conclusion, that's the part that warrants a bit more hustle.

Bobby's museum staff has perhaps a few too many supporting characters. However, each of them are fine LGBTQ actors who deserve the spotlight.

The opening introduction to Bobby is a little rough too. He's narrating his podcast and essentially giving all the exposition about his character.

That intro does facilitate one good bit about Bobby refusing to write a gay rom-com, when we're about to watch the rom-com Eichner co-wrote with director Nicholas Stoller. He makes the astute point that it's not enough just to give LGBTQ people the same stories because their stories are different, and Bros proceeds to prove it.

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So Bros is not the perfect LGBTQ rom-com but if every rom-com could be It Happened One Night (or Jeffrey) they'd stop trying to make more. Bros is a good date movie that can provoke dinner conversation in audiences of any orientation.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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