The Chair’s Review: Bros

Who knew that Bros, the first gay romantic comedy released by a major studio, would be as good and sweet and touching as it is?

I certainly didn’t.

Oh, also, it’s pretty damn funny.

And Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane make a really convincing couple falling in love. 

It might not seem that way in the poster, which features only the backsides of two unidentified men, each with a hand on the other one’s ass.

Isn’t this better???

But, hey, you can’t have everything.

Sadly, one thing Bros didn’t have this opening weekend was box-office success.

It received almost universally glowing reviews and scored 97% on Rotten Tomatoes’ audience meter.  But grossing approximately $4.8 million domestically on 3350 screens makes it a huge financial disappointment in light of the $10 million plus it was expected to earn.

Not to mention the $22 million it cost to make and the $30-$40 million above that Universal Pictures spent to market it. 

Box-office numbers are a strange indicator of what is good, bad or indifferent about a movie.  Trust me, I know whereof I speak.  In the eighties, I started the first weekly national box-office column for Daily Variety, which in turn popularized the international trend of reporting the grosses each weekend as if movies were racehorses in the Kentucky Derby.

Groan

But what seemed a good idea at the time for a business publication inundated with inflated numbers of seeming profit provided by their corporate-entity makers (Note:  There is often little correlation between box-office grosses and actual profit, since it depends how much the damn thing cost to make and promote) promptly became nothing more than another way to measure a film’s VALUE. 

In turn, it too often was the barometer for it being dubbed a SUCCESS or a FAILURE.

Yes, we live in a capitalist society and who doesn’t like making money?  This is especially the case for corporate entities.

But as far as the measure of worth is concerned, the numbers a moviemaker’s film pulls in on opening weekend at the box-office in 2022 couldn’t be less-related to its artistic, and, yeah, even its ultimate financial worth.

Preach!

This is not 1980, when Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder’s bro comedy Stir Crazy was lighting up the box-office coffers in one of the first Daily Variety stories I ever wrote.  And Bros is certainly not Annie Hall (1977), a film about another neurotic Jewish New Yorker who falls in love with a gorgeous person from the planet SHIKSA/SHAYGETZ (Note: Look it up!) much the way Mr. Eichner does here.

As a young gay man who loved Annie Hall when it was released and had not yet come out, I could NEVER have imagined in my WILDEST, WEIRDEST dream that any movie studio, much less a major one, could make a gay male love story starring a much too talkative, know-it-all Semitic boy from Queens, like Billy AND myself, with any other boy boy from any other PLANET.

I mean, I barely realized those kind of love affairs were possible in real life on EARTH.  And you might even substitute the world barely with I didn’t even know. 

If only I had Bros way back when, I might have kissed (Note: And much more) A LOT less toads until I found my prince.

This!

But I suspect that was partly Mr. Eichner’s story too, and at least a sliver of the reason he wanted to make this movie in the first place.  It’s a laudable ambition and effort but practically a fool’s errand given the finicky nature of the way audiences watch new films in these pandemic and post-pandemic (Note: Ahem) days.

Personally, this is only the second time in more than two and a half years I’ve been to an actual public movie theatre as opposed to the at least 1-2 times PER WEEK that I used to attend pre-2020.

Me, 20 minutes before showtime

This might not be the case for most young people but, then again, we need to consider what everyone is now going to see publicly en masse. 

Once you cut out Marvel movies, horror films and tent pole-type action flicks, how many big opening weekends for romantic comedies are left??

Bros director/co-writer Nick Stoller scored big with the pre-pandemic 2008 film Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  And producer Judd Apatow directed the writer-star Amy Schumer to opening weekend success in 2015 in her big screen debut, Trainwreck.

But those might have been made and released a century ago as far as our current movie-watching habits are concerned.

Imagine a world where at least half of the new movies can be had opening weekend at home on your big ass screen with a click of a button from a service you pay a minimal amount of money to subscribe to.

You don’t have to.  It exists.

… and you don’t even need to wear shoes (or get dressed!)

Or better yet, think about a life when any moviegoer can pay the price of a single ticket of admission plus a few more dollars and entertain as large a group of friends as they want to their house (Note: Or even a first date with someone they like) and together watch that new movie they’ve been dying to see, on their computer, in their living room, bedroom or, well, any room in or outside their house, apartment, or trailer home?

You don’t have to.  You can merely open your eyes and fulfill that wish for 80% of the movies out there.

Universal and the other big four or five major studios  (Note:  Six? Seven? Three? How many are technically left?) might not want to recognize this fact.  But it’s still a fact.

This is especially the case for a genre that’s always been close to this gay man’s heart – the romantic comedy.    

On the other hand, maybe I’ll be proved wrong in a few weeks when the new George Clooney-Julia Roberts rom-com, Ticket to Paradise, debuts solely at movie theatres.

Admittedly a better poster!

Yet is it fair to compare movie star royalty like the Clooney-Roberts combined billion-dollar box-office oeuvre with Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane?

Well, too bad.  Who ever said life was fair?

See, that’s the gist of the argument.  But the market doesn’t quite exist anymore to launch a new rom-com star, or stars, solely on the big screen.  Even Julia Roberts did a TV series a few years ago and the last theatrical box-office success starring George Clooney was…… okay, Gravity (2013), where he didn’t even have the lead and which was certainly no rom-com.

Bros got the most difficult thing right in a movie of any genre, but most especially one that is a romance AND a comedy.  It persuades us to care about its two leads by presenting them as real people rather than cardboard cutout movie types generated by a computer program, a list of old films and the shuffling of scenes written on a bunch of recycled index cards.

and it’s charming!

Sure, there are moments where what we are watching has so many LGBTQ plus references and people that you need a flow chart to be fluid, up to date, on trend and hip enough not to be left in the dust or mildly uncomfortable by some throwaway remark or too larger than life comic overstep or contemporary reference.

But that’s the exception rather than the rule here. 

Bros is certainly not perfect but what is the last perfect movie you’ve seen in the pandemic, or post-pandemic present? (Note: Or ever?)

As rom-coms go, it far exceeds 2022’s Marry Me (starring J-Lo and Owen Wilson) and The Lost City (Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in the leads) any day of the week.

But that will not be the ruler against which the first gay romantic comedy released by a major studio will be measured against.

They’ll compare it to the Oscars won by Annie Hall (1977), the popularity of When Harry Met Sally (1989), the box-office mojo of Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds’ in 2009’s The Proposal (Note: $163 million domestically) and the zeitgeist reaction to Crazy Rich Asians in pre-pandemic 2018.

… which in this case means, box office success

This is meaningless.  And it takes away nothing from Bros being a very good, very smart and very entertaining film at a time when we need the very entertaining, the very smart and the very good. 

By any true measure of anything worth measuring, that makes it a success. 

Not to mention, historic.

Billy Eichner – “Love is Not Love” (from Bros)

We’re all uncomfortable

If you refuse to watch art from people you in some way disapprove of, only Tom Hanks and Julie Andrews are left.   

-– The Chair

Make me watch Forrest Gump or The Ladykillers again and I’d probably punch you in the face.

Not to mention, Hawaii and the 1980 remake of Little Miss Marker would be a very tough slog.  (Note: Sorry, Jules).

And truly, if you’re going to watch some classic films why not simply go to the acknowledged mainstream top of the list choices.  Perhaps Chinatown or even… ROSEMARY’S BABY?????????

What’d’ya say Mrs. Mulwray?

Uh, oh.  Both films were directed by Roman Polanski and Mr. Polanski is best known these days by a new generation of filmgoers as the man who had sex with an underage girl and fled the U.S. before he could be properly punished for it.

Rightly or wrongly – and it’s not either one – this issue came up recently in a writing class when we were analyzing story elements of a classic sequence in Rosemary’s Baby where the lead character is raped by….

Well, who did it is not important for the subject of this discussion.  The pertinent part was the past deeds of this director and how much his personal actions influence what a viewer now sees or can’t see in the piece of art being offered to us.

This film still kind of says it all #ugh #uncomfortable

My knee jerk reaction is that we must separate the art from the artist and realize that times change, truth reveals itself in increments and people who live in glass houses, which means ALL of us, shouldn’t throw stones.

On the other hand, to NOT acknowledge that the personal is not only political but pertinent and influential, is to ignore the extreme cultural moments we are living through these days. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody but I’m not so sure I want to support ANYTHING director Bryan Singer does/did again.

As a gay guy, I’ve heard about his penchant for younger men for years and the fabled parties where they gathered with him (Note: Or were gathered up for him).  On the other hand, I was never there and certainly never saw him doing anything inappropriate with a 15 or 17 year old boy elsewhere so who was I to judge?  What is my responsibility?  And does it mean he shouldn’t direct Millennium Films’ upcoming big budget remake of Red Sonja?

I’m with Randy #10yearoldmemes #stillapplies

The Sundance Film Festival this week previewed the upcoming 4-hour HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland, which chronicles in painstaking detail Michael Jackson’s sexual relationships with pre and early adolescent young boys when he was in his thirties.

British filmmaker Dan Reed is a respected documentarian and by all accounts the personal testimony of Jackson’s victims, their families, and the similarity and specificity of details make it as devastating to watch as the current Lifetime series Surviving R. Kelly, which centers on that singer/songwriter/producer’s longtime sexual abuse of numerous underage women.

I have not felt comfortable with Mr. Jackson’s music for DECADES given that we were close in age as I watched him parade to endless premieres and show biz photo ops in the eighties and nineties in the company of  9, 11, 13 and 15 year olds boys, sometimes two or three at a time and occasionally strangely holding hands with the odd one as he spoke of playful sleepovers at his dreamy playground of a ranch.

This picture REALLY makes me uncomfortable

I remember thinking to myself, what would someone my age conceivably EVER be doing with those boys overnight and, if it wasn’t overtly sexual, could it EVER conceivably be appropriate, even with their parents’ approval?  What I concluded then and now was that it could not and, hence, I never was able to listen to or watch Mr. Jackson in the same way ever again.

I have no proof and I’m not faulting anyone who jams out to Billie Jean or who will forever see him as the King of Pop.  But there was and is something so questionable in my mind about Mr. Jackson’s personal life that sucks the goodness and fun and joy out of anything I could possibly see or hear him do.  Even the famed Motown anniversary moonwalk – the younger, gentler version of what he left behind – leaves me at best sad for all concerned when viewed in the context of the entirety of his life.

This brings me no joy #notaseasyas123

One teaching colleague of mine recently shared the difficulty of talking to college students about Miramax/Harvey Weinstein when recounting the history of the Hollywood independent film movement.  It’s not that you don’t do it, but how do get them to appreciate what that studio accomplished without the stench?   And how do you write a book about the history of television in the last century and not give The Cosby Show its due?  That’s a topic someone else very close to me (Note: VERY) is dealing with at the moment.

Can we just talk about Denise Huxtable and noone else?

To say nothing of Louis CK  and his recent jokes about the students of Parkland or Woody Allen movies in general.   How do I look at Annie Hall these days?

As a baby boomer I can only speak to Annie Hall, one of my favorite films of all time, and confess that it will forever make me laugh because I am able to block out all reality and focus in on the joy it brought me throughout my life.  Yes, I am that strong or that weak where these feelings overwhelm everything else past and present and take me back to a time when it at least FELT like we were all a lot more innocent and unsullied by the realities of a hopelessly stained contemporary world.

Of course, that is/was a fantasy in itself but at the very least it got me through my twenties and thirties.  Though when you shove Manhattan in my face now  and I’m forced to watch Woody with Mariel Hemingway’s 17 year-old character, (Note: As happened several months ago on cable TV) it’s cringe worthy.  Meaning denial only works in certain cases and, in this case,  I suddenly froze up and couldn’t help but turn away.

Can I hold on to this?

So yeah, in this light I totally get some of my students’ aversion to Rosemary’s Baby and Mr. Polanski.   How many of us Jews interested in movies have ever had a tough time with academic articles fetishizing the filmmaking talent of Adolph Hitler’s favorite director, Leni Riefenstahl?  (Note: Whose Triumph of the Will is coincidentally used as a bittersweet punch line in said Annie Hall)

Perhaps the answer is a film festival featuring Triumph of the Will, Rosemary’s Baby Annie Hall and maybe…oh…Cosby in Uptown Saturday Night?   We can also add in Kevin Spacey ‘s Oscar winning performance in American Beauty and two of Singer’s X-Men movies for good measure.

The audience at this film festival

But how many of us would go?   Not as many as would watch any one of the six in the privacy of our own homes and keep it a secret.

Michael Jackson – “Bad”