Really, there was no way for Bros to win.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller and co-written by him and star Billy Eichner, this first-ever romantic comedy about two middle-aged gay men to be backed by a major studio – that would be Universal, which “bravely” ponied up about one-ninth of the cost of its recent Jurassic World Dominion – was doomed to fail. It was either going to be, for mass audiences, too gay, or, for its presumed “niche” demographic, not gay enough. It was going to be conscious of the L, B, T, and Q in its LGBTQ celebration, but was still going to focus on the relationship between two cis white men. It was going to demand to be taken seriously, in its comedic fashion, as a long-overdue corrective to a century's worth of cinematic disinterest, yet also poke at previously heralded representation deemed too falsely utopian (Schitt's Creek, Glee) or too nihilistic (Brokeback Mountain, The Power of the Dog) – the latter, we're reminded, starring straight actors in gay roles. Plus, of course, there was the ick factor. Kudos to Universal for so relentlessly advertising the film; I must have seen a cineplex preview for Bros a dozen times in the last three months. After the fourth instance of a patron not-quietly muttering some variation on “Uggghhhh” when Eichner and co-star Luke Macfarlane kissed, I stopped keeping track.
So yeah: Bros bombed at the box office, making less than $5 million on its opening weekend. Let me amend that: It inevitably bombed. (It actually might've done quite well in the mid-to-late-'90s heyday of The Birdcage and In & Out and the coming-out episode of Ellen.) But there are winners in this fait accompli lose-lose scenario, and they turn out to be the movie's viewers. Because if you're willing to take Bros at face value – as a remarkably astute, frequently hysterical, surreptitiously moving comedic romance concerning a certain subsection of LGBTQ culture – you might find yourself enjoying nearly two hours of absolute bliss. Stoller's and Eichner's achievement gave me everything I want and so rarely get from Hollywood rom-coms: interest, involvement, investment, sexual heat, huge laughs, legitimately threatening obstacles. It also gave me everything I publicly detest yet secretly adore about its genre: one-dimensionally wacky supporting figures, a jukebox worth of early-pop standards, the requisite trip to pick out a Christmas tree. (A bit, here, quickly followed by our leads also bringing home a Christmas-tree-sized menorah.) I firmly believe that you can see every new narrive point coming from a mile off and still have a fantastic time at Stoller's and Eichner's movie. It's hardly their fault that so few people chose to show up for it.
The plot is rom-com simple, with Eichner's successful podcaster Bobby Lieber – the newly anointed curator for a debuting LGBTQ museum in Manhattan – meeting Macfarlane's gorgeous, seemingly dim estate lawyer Aaron Shepherd at a rager and thinking he might make for a fun non-Grindr date. At the bar, Aaron ghosts him. Literally. (Aaron tends to disappear the way Batman does every time Commissioner Gordon turns his back on the guy for two seconds.) All of their near-misses, however, lead to an eventual hook-up, which leads to several more hook-ups, which lead to these two steadfastly relationship-averse men to wonder if they might, for the first time, be falling in love. We've all seen this scenario played out numerous times in 21st-century flicks, and the participatory names are usually familiar ones: Bullock, Reynolds, Hudson, McConaughey, Lopez, Wilson, Heigl. Duhamel. Yet unless you're a frequent viewer of the Hallmark Channel (for which Macfarlnae has starred in, like, a dozen TV rom-coms over the last 10 years) or saw more depth of emotion in Billy on the Street than most of us did, you might not be prepared for the wit, inventiveness, and heart that Eichner and Macfarlane bring to their screen relationship in Bros.
It's rare, at least these days, to see true love onscreen. I'd argue that it's maybe even rarer to see true like onscreen, and what Stoller's and Eichner's movie gets better than so many others of the last 20 years is the sense that Bobby and Aaron completely adore each other whether in or out of bed. The sex and more frequent lead-ups to sex are definitely hot if you're not among the “ick” brigade. But while Bros is admirably candid about its leads' shared and individual sex lives, I was far more knocked out by how much chemistry this quintessentially mismatched duo shared – Eichner with his sardonic, easily incensed, borderline-obnoxious self-righteousness; Macfarlane with his deadpan, sneakily subversive, emotionally reserved Ken-doll handsomeness. Through the course of their Bros romance, both of them, at one point or another, ended up in tears. They weren't the only ones.
If you, too, have been missing big-screen Hollywood romances but have not missed the dreadful likes of The Ugly Truth or Playing for Keeps or anything else starrng Gerard Butler, this film might prove the answer to unasked prayers. The supporting cast is priceless, featuring everything from bookended appearances by gay icons Harvey Fierstein and Bowen Yang to a killer cameo by Debra Messing, who, playing herself, laments the last 20-plus years she's had to spend giving advice to self-conscious gay dudes. (“Grace was a character! I was acting! I won an Emmy!”) There are unexpected cameos by the likes of Ben Stiller and Amy Schumer and Seth Myers. There are clever, nasty pop-culture knocks – and reverence – toward everything from Garth Brooks and The Office to Macfarlane's Hallmark Channel cash cow and Bohemian Rhapsody. (Appraising his nephew's hand drawing of Freddie Mercury in concert, Bobby deems it both lovely and “a vast improvement on the movie.”)
And the film shrewdly incorporates all of our collective knowledge about its Hollywood forebears, from its score by When Harry Met Sally... composer Mar Shaiman to its streaming nod to You've Got Mail to its frenzied, climactic run through the streets of Manhattan to our hero giving a public address at which his lover miraculously appears. That one is right up there with a rom-com protagonist making a hasty trek to an airport or interrupting, and consequently ruining, an ill-conceived wedding. Bros won't be for everyone. It's amazing, in truth, that it's for anyone. But it was absolutely for me, and just might be for you.
Absolutely shellacking Bros at the box office this past weekend was the horror movie Smile, and I would've been more disheartened by that news if writer/director Parker Finn's debut wasn't so darned good. In it, Sosie Bacon plays Dr. Rose Walter, a clinical psychiatrist who, as a child, discovered the suicide of her mother, and as an adult, witnesses the suicide of a distraught PhD candidate (Cailtin Stasey) who claims that a nightmarish entity has been trailing her, assuming different forms, and enticing her to kill herself. Before she slits her throat in front of the doctor, however, the young woman sports a massive, terrifying, ear-to-ear grin – and if you get on the film's über-creepy wavelength, you might find yourself, for nearly two hours, routinely doing the same.
Finn's first feature does contain a few too many obvious “Surprise!” hallucinations and borderline-cheap jump scares, and Jessie T. Usher is sadly underutilized as Rose's nondescript fiancé. As anchored, however, by an increasingly ravaged, untethered Bacon (daughter to Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, and excellent in HBO's wonderful miniseries Mare of Easttown), the film easily hurdles over its minor pitfalls. As a director, Finn contributes some queasy, topsy-turvy imagery that makes you feel, as Rose does, like you're continually losing your balance; he builds masterful suspense through the slowest of closeups on people's horrified or horrifying expressions; and he does expert work with several supporting actors, most notably Kyle Gallner as Rose's helpful, empathetic ex and Robin Weigert as Rose's cucumber-cool therapist. (We fans of Weigert's Calamity Jane in Deadwood have been patiently waiting for the performer to land a film role as juicy and memorable as this one.) And as a writer, Finn delivers the rare fright-flick narrative that's not only lucid and manages to hold together by the finale (a feat in itself), but one that's thematically trenchant, making the case for the witnessing of trauma as its own traumatic event that, if not faced, will inevitably cause devastating harm. Amazingly, every once in a while during this superior genre outing, Smile actually made me think. Don't let that stop you from seeing it.
JEEPERS CREEPERS: REBORN
A reboot/continuation/something-or-other of a series I'm betting most people had forgotten about if they even knew about it at all, Jeepers Creepers: Reborn is something I was beginning to think we'd never again get: a truly, spectacularly terrible horror film. Remember when those things used to be fairly common? They sure haven't been in 2022. Your mileage on the titles may vary as mine does, but between Smile, X and its prequel Pearl, Nope, The Black Phone, Barbarian, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Men, Orphan: First Kill, Watcher, The Cursed, and even parts of the Scream reboot, this has proven a rather spectacular year for genre fans, and we still have the kajillionth “final” installment of the Halloween franchise to look forward to. (Among the very few bummer scare flicks released in cineplexes since January, The Invitation at least had Nathalie Emmanuel as its lead, and Firestarter at least had … . Hmmm … . Lemme get back to you on that.) But director Timo Vuorensola's Jeepers Creepers entry – the first made without the involvement (and, apparently, against the wishes) of original creator Victor Salva – makes everything again right with the world. It sucks. I mean it really really really sucks.
I should have known better, but I was actually anticipating some mild wit from Reborn after its opening sequence, which found two Louisiana seniors driven off the road by a hostile, unseen figure in a battered red pickup. The scene was a veritable recreation of a similar encounter in 2001's original Jeepers Creepers, and while, as the victimized travelers here, Dee Wallace and Gary Graham were kind of terrible, it turned out they were meant to be, as they were eventually shown to be re-enactors on a cheesy true-crime series in the vein of Unsolved Mysteries. All told, it was a decent opening. But then the actual storyline kicked in, with young lovers heading off to a horror convention in the bayou and running afoul of the series' resident lunatic the Creeper – that heavily latexed dude, you may recall, with wings and fangs and a kicky chapeau who eats people every 23 years. That ever-ridiculous monster, it pains me to say, is the movie's least offensive element.
Beginning with the fact that leading performer Sydney Craven looks like a high-schooler yet is apparently playing a career biologist, absolutely nothing about Reborn works. Not the performances, some of which are so startlingly amateurish that you begin to wonder whether “Timo Vuorensola” is perhaps a pseudonym for “Tommy Wiseau.” Not Jake Seal's and Sean Michael Argo's script, which, per custom, finds characters routinely behaving in the stupidest ways imaginable in every given situation. Not the visuals, with the gore resembling papier mâché smothered with red food coloring and one bit on a church rooftop boasting quite possibly the 21st century's most laughable green-screen effects. Not the scares, which are nonexistent; not the editing, which is incoherent; not the finale, which predictably turns our heroine into a faux Sigourney Weaver who calls the Creeper “bitch.” For heaven's sake, our vinyl-loving villain doesn't even play the legit “Jeepers Creepers” song – just some old-timey replica with the words “jeepers” and “creepers” randomly tossed in. Would paying for the rights to Louis Armstrong have busted the budget? Jeepers Creepers: Reborn was reportedly designed as the start of a new trilogy. Someone please clip this Creeper's wings before it's too late.