TIFF 2022 'Bros': Billy Eichner's history-making LGBTQ rom-com is best we've seen in years
At the world premiere of Bros at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the movie’s co-writer and star Billy Eichner joked that he wanted a standing ovation longer than the six minutes The Whale got in Venice, but he debatably got something better with roaring laughter from the packed audience throughout the whole film, which we’re already calling the best rom-com of the last decade, if not longer.
Bros (theatrical release on Sept. 30) is making history as the first gay romantic comedy from a major movie studio, Universal Pictures in this case, and Eichner is the first openly gay man to star in and co-write a studio film.
“I wanted it to be authentic, I wanted LGBTQ folks and gay men to look at the screen, and go to a movie theatre, and go see it on a big screen and say, ‘there we are,’” Eichner said at the Friday night premiere. “We're not a monolithic group, but I really wanted it to be honest.”
I was so scared because for so much of my career leading up to Bros, the first thing they tell you as a writer is write what you know,...but I think LGBTQ folks will understand what I mean when I say that I always thought…‘what if I write the truth and my truth scares people? What if my truth is something that everyone assumes is going to alienate straight people, or won't be commercial or won't be mainstream?’ I live with that and how to navigate that, as I'm sure many of us had to do in our lives for many years.Billy Eichner, 'Bros' co-writer, star
Eichner plays Bobby Leiber, a witty and cynical podcaster who is completely uninspired by the world of dating app hookups. Things start to change when he goes to a club and meets Aaron (played by London, Ont., born Luke Macfarlane), who’s from a small town and is now a lawyer that manages wills and estates.
Bobby is also trying to open the first LGBTQ+ history museum in New York, alongside his board, made up of a great ensemble cast, which includes Jim Rash, Dot-Marie Jones, Miss Lawrence, TS Madison and Eve Lindley.
“We came up with this idea that my character would work in an LGBTQ National History Museum, which strangely exists in Bros before it exists in real life in America, and when I was doing research for it, there were so many things even I, as a middle-aged man, I didn't know,” Eichner said. “We are never taught our own history.”
At a Q&A following the Toronto premiere, each of the cast members revealed to the audience what made them come on board for this project.
“The coolest thing was just the diversity of your people in this cast and it was able to represent not just one clear perspective, but a multiplicity of relationships and approaches to relationships and love,” Guy Branum, who plays Bobby’s friend Henry, said at the premiere. “It was really cool that it was something that was able to give you so much of that classic rom-com feel, while still having honesty about how queer lives are different from straight lives.”
“This is my 31st year doing this kind of business," Dot-Marie Jones added. “It's so emotional because,...aside from the amazing stuff that I had the opportunity to do on Glee, this is over the top, where everybody is LGBTQ (LMNOP) everybody's included and never in these 31 years did I think that I would not just see this but to be a part of this history right here, and I am so honoured.”
TS Madison added that being able to watch Bros in a theatre, experiencing the movie with an audience, “sent a tingle in all of [their] stomachs.”
Finding the balance between comedy and drama
Bros is filled with a number of comedy icons and one of those people is Jim Rash, who famously played Dean Pelton in Community, but also won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Descendants in 2012. Talking about how he joined Bros, Rash explained that he was part of the initial table read back in 2019.
“At that point, it was not a thing I was attached to, by any means, and then I got the honour of being offered the part of Robert,” Rash told Yahoo Canada. “To be a part of a movie that is something that we didn't grow up with,...that we can see all this representation on the screen and then just be a funny movie, I think that's what's so beautiful about this love story.”
“When you gather to make someone's movie, a screenplay that they've toiled with and then to know so much of it is pulled from Billy [Eichner] and what he wants to say with this movie, you rally behind that person.”
With a Bros cast where everyone is bringing so much greatest to the table, with the comedy ranging from jabs at Dear Evan Hansen, Glee and Caitlyn Jenner, to more emotional moments like a heartfelt monologue Bobby says to Aaron on a beach, Bros is an example of a perfectly crafted ensemble.
"I think with Bros in particular, obviously, because it's a whole other level, adding a very specific representation and diversity and inclusion," Rash explained. "To hear and see these voices,...the beauty of an ensemble is exactly what you want, which is a collection of point of views, it allows people to see themselves up there.”
At the TIFF premiere, before the film started, Billy Eichner thanked the festival for actually allowing a comedy into the mix, which speaks to this cultural perception that, for whatever reason, comedy films can’t stand in line with drama, despite the fact that they’re some of the most watched films in the world. For Bros, there's this perfect balance of insanely funny comedy, with emotional, more dramatic moments that completely crush that stereotype about comedies.
“In order to have a really good comedy, you have to have drama, and by that I mean characters going through something that is recognizable and poignant and important to them, because all of the comedy in our lives can come at the most awkward of times, even our most difficult times,” Rash said. “We look back at it and we have a sense of humour, or it takes on a whole different context for what it felt like to go through that.”
“I think there's no better time for us to embrace that idea than now… It [has been] three years of very difficult time for all of us to navigate, so to have the comedies that give us the laughter when we need it, but at the same time,....comedy can exist on two planes. It’s cliche to say, but it's true, comedy is hard. Getting it right, getting the right mix requires having everything in balance… I love a comedy-drama, I love the ballet between the two, so I don't think you can have one without the other.”