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‘Bros,’ the first big-studio R-rated gay rom-com, is for everyone

Star and co-writer Billy Eichner delivers a stream of wry (and relatable) one-liners out a fire hose filled with vinegar

Billy Eichner, left, and Luke Macfarlane in “Bros.” (Universal Pictures)
(3 stars)

“Go, LGBTQ people!” Billy Eichner crowed at the packed premiere of “Bros” at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month. The ensuing whistles, whoops and applause almost drowned out his parenthetical add-on: “But it really is a movie for everyone.”

He wasn’t wrong. “Bros,” which has been hotly anticipated as the first big-studio R-rated gay rom-com, definitely has universal appeal, if your universe happens to include anyone navigating the vagaries of love, lust and generational change. But like any successful comedy — or movie, for that matter — “Bros” succeeds in its specificity: in this case, gay life and culture that are brimming with foibles, contradictions, triumphs and failures just waiting to be mined for comic gold.

Eichner, who co-wrote and stars in “Bros,” has just the right spiky-and-sweet voice for the job. He plays Bobby Leiber, a cynical New York podcaster whose expertise is hidden gay histories and whose latest project is opening a museum dedicated to same. In the giddy whirlwind of the film’s opening section, Bobby narrates his life with the mordant panache of Woody Allen at his most dryly amusing. No sooner is he delivering an impassioned stemwinder on “the erasure of gay love over centuries” than he’s cutting to his daily life on Grindr, where the banal “Hey, what’s up?” manages to convey untold volumes of terror and promise in three little words (and a question mark).

Bobby is happy, comfortable in his skin and extremely lonely, a condition largely of his own compulsively critical making. “I support them, but I don’t trust them,” he says of his fellow gay men at one point. At another, he recoils from the rainbows-and-unicorns phrase “Love is love,” so often trumpeted by self-congratulatory straight liberals. “Love is not love,” he insists grumpily. In other words, it’s mortifyingly, confoundingly singular — and, for him at least, unknowable. One of Bobby’s funniest observations is the untapped market for an app aimed at gay men “who just want to talk actresses and go to sleep.”

Bobby’s wry one-liners, delivered by way of Eichner’s distinctive caustic sneer, blast out of a fire hose filled with vinegar throughout “Bros,” which was directed by Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Neighbors”) from a script the two co-wrote. At its raunchiest moments — and there are more than a few — the film exists firmly in the world that Stoller helped create with producer Judd Apatow. Whereas Apatow’s past films have included their share of lame homophobic humor, here he lends his expertise to icky sight gags involving masturbation and one of the most hilarious group sex scenes possibly ever committed to film.

With its in-jokes, badinage-y dialogue and pacey editing, “Bros” makes for a breezy sendup of everything from the earnest excesses of identity politics — one of Bobby’s museum board members wants a display like the blue whale at the Museum of Natural History “except it’s a lesbian” — to throuples and the resentments of aging boomers and Gen Xers toward their millennial colleagues. “We got AIDS, they got ‘Glee,’ ” Bobby snipes. But his tone begins to soften ever so slightly once he meets Aaron, a hunky, no-drama sweetheart played with disarming sincerity by Hallmark movie stalwart Luke Macfarlane.

Forget whether this marriage can be saved: Can the courtship even begin? That’s the question chased throughout a knowing comedy of modern-day manners that includes a generous helping of fun cameos — Bowen Yang as a dismissive producer, Debra Messing as a burlesque of herself — as well as deftly deployed zingers and a thoroughgoing dismantling of hookup culture in all its liberated glory and self-abnegating humiliation. “Bros” got its start as a bit that Eichner did on his television show “Billy on the Street,” when he wore a turned-around baseball cap and khakis to inhabit the persona of a generic heterosexual dude. He gets to revisit the bit here, but thankfully, the movie feels like more than an extended track. Underneath the acid and attitude, “Bros” turns out to be thoughtful meditation on the multitudes we all contain, and how we choose which ones to bring to the party.

R. At area theaters. Contains strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use. 115 minutes.

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