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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.