After Hollywood gave a big “yes” to smart, funny, authentically gay rom-coms in the form of Billy Eichner’s Judd Apatow-produced film Bros, the moviegoing public gave them a big “no” in the form of a disappointing opening weekend, one bearing the added burden of seeming to register America’s comfort level with LBGTQ characters in mainstream comedy, according to the New York Times.
The first gay romantic comedy from a major studio, Bros arrived on a tide of goodwill and strong marketing presence in 3,350 theaters nationwide. Yet its ticket sales of $4.8 million fell 40 percent below the lowest estimate industry analysts had predicted before the opening, and well below its $22 million production costs and the estimated $30-$40 million Universal spent to promote the film.
The film, which costars Luke Macfarlane and co-writer Eichner, follows a traditional rom-com romantic arc: from meet-cute to autumnal walk-and-talks in Central Park, to commitment quibbles, and on. But it explores the specific social and anatomic reality of its milieu with the frank, uproarious precision of Apatow-produced films from Knocked Up to Bridesmaids and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Those who have seen it, love it. Bros currently holds an impressive 90 percent fresh score with critics and 91 percent with audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, in a rare case of Tomato caste consensus.
When he began work on Bros, Eichner told Vanity Fair, “I had no interest in something that was working over time to be super palatable to straight people.” His sole priorities with cowriter Nicholas Stoller were “to be really funny and it has to be very relatable to everyone, but it still has to be authentic to the gay audience and the gay characters that it’s about.”
Eichner emphasized that Universal completely supported his vision throughout the promotion of the film. “From the first trailer they put out—the red-band trailer, when they sent it to me, they were not holding back,” he said. “Same goes for the poster with Luke and I grabbing each other’s asses.”
Eichner hailed this presentation’s honesty. “We’re not trying to trick people into seeing some soft little thing which walks on eggshells about the gay experience, then get them into the movie theater and then oh, boom, it’s actually R-rated and raunchy and a real Judd Apatow comedy for adults.”
If comedy weren’t already an unquantifiable prospect, the existence of moviegoing adults is another proposition almost equally hard to prove. Bros opened opposite Paramount Pictures’ horror Smile, which took first place this weekend with no close contenders for its $22.6 million total gross. The silver medal went to the unloved Don’t Worry Darling but with a take of just $6.8 million. Bros’ distant fourth-place ranking in the weekend tally moved Universal execs to take stock.
“We’ll see where we go from here,” Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic distribution, told the New York Times. “We’re incredibly proud of the film, and I really believe there is going to be great word of mouth.”
Eichner himself has stated plainly what he believes sunk the picture on its opening weekend, tweeting, “That’s just the world we live in, unfortunately. Even with glowing reviews, great Rotten Tomatoes scores, an A CinemaScore etc, straight people, especially in certain parts of the country, just didn’t show up for Bros. And that’s disappointing but it is what it is”
That’s just the world we live in, unfortunately. Even with glowing reviews, great Rotten Tomatoes scores, an A CinemaScore etc, straight people, especially in certain parts of the country, just didn’t show up for Bros. And that’s disappointing but it is what it is.
— billy eichner (@billyeichner) October 2, 2022
In another weekend post, Eichner pointed out that Bros is on Rolling Stone’s list of the best comedies of the 21st century. He also said one theater chain wanted to pull the preview due to its gay content. He concluded the post, “America, fuck yeah, etc etc.”
Rolling Stone already has BROS on the list of the best comedies of the 21st century. What’s also true is that at one point a theater chain called Universal and said they were pulling the trailer because of the gay content. (Uni convinced them not to). America, fuck yeah, etc etc.
— billy eichner (@billyeichner) October 2, 2022
Eichner struck a more hopeful tone in a further Sunday dispatch, recommending, “Everyone who ISN’T a homophobic weirdo should go see BROS tonight! You will have a blast! And it *is* special and uniquely powerful to see this particular story on a big screen, esp for queer folks who don’t get this opportunity often. I love this movie so much. GO BROS!!!”
To be fair, it’s helpful to be familiar with Eichner’s unique delivery had he been saying these things out loud before you judge—for instance, in his standout stint on Parks and Recreation.
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