news Billy Eichner’s ‘Bros’ Could Be an Oscar Contender for Best Original Screenplay

The Toronto International Film Festival audience’s emphatic response to “Bros” was preordained. As the co-writer and star of a gay New York romcom patterned after “You’ve Got Mail” and “When Harry Met Sally,” Billy Eichner spent months talking up the movie as a representational milestone. While “Fire Island” was the first high-profile gay love story to come out this year, the Searchlight-produced movie written by lead Joel Kim Booster was released straight to Hulu over the summer. That means Eichner can brag that he’s the first openly gay man to write and star in a major studio movie — and one with an all-gay cast, including the straight characters.

“Bros” leans into that significance at every turn. Eichner’s starring role as a grouchy podcaster who discovers an unexpected romantic connection with the beefy and basic Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) takes an overdone formula and douses it in queerness, from jokes about Grindr hookups (an attempted butt shot goes very wrong) to meta humor about the many dreary gay movies that came before, including “The Power of the Dog” and “Brokeback Mountain.”

“Bros” is not one of those movies. It’s a Judd Apatow-produced romcom that overcomes its near-two-hour running time and occasional clunkiness with sheer likability akin to Apatow’s own “Trainwreck.” Introducing the movie’s world premiere at TIFF, Eichner thanked programmers for showing “a comedy at a movie festival.” In truth, TIFF needs “Bros” just as much as “Bros” needs TIFF: It’s one of the few world premieres with visibility beyond the festival bubble, and the ecstatic laughter that threatened to drown out much of the dialogue was a welcome post-pandemic reminder that festivals can generate powerful word of mouth. That response also positions “Bros” as an early contender for TIFF’s coveted People’s Choice Award, a prize that often provides an early indicator of awards-season buzz.

“Bros” isn’t your obvious Oscar movie, but that’s also what sets it apart. Eichner has been a beloved comedian ever since “Billy on the Street” took off over a decade ago, and his ability to funnel his persona as a goofball provocateur into the romcom format is a story worthy of celebration. The Academy is notorious for undervaluing comedies, but Eichner’s screenplay (co-written by director Nicholas Stoller) could make a definite play for the Best Original Screenplay category where quirkier possibilities can do well.

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“Bros”

Universal Pictures

That’s where Diablo Cody’s “Juno” wound up after spending the season reminding voters of her journey from stripper to anonymous blogger before writing a female-focused pregnancy story that traditional Hollywood would never make. Other recent Original Screenplay contenders with a playful edge include “The Big Sick,” “Her” and “Get Out,” which also scored points for breaking barriers with its plot. The competition is crowded with everything from Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” to Todd Field’s “TÁR” gunning for recognition, but the fun and accessible quality of “Bros” could help elevate in the months ahead.

For all that to happen, however, Universal needs to make it a hit. The romcom genre has been box-office poison for years, while Netflix cranks out more rudimentary versions that do well on streaming before vanishing into the ether. (“Bros” mocks the queering of cheap romcoms as well.)

“Bros” opens September 30, just a few weeks after its TIFF debut. If the movie succeeds at the box office and maintains that presence for several weeks, that may be enough to justify a longer campaign. Of course, this is one awards candidate where the studio won’t have to push its talent to stay in the game. Eichner has been touting his achievement with early marketing events and online buzz for months; at the movie’s afterparty on a Toronto rooftop, he was spotted making the rounds well past 2 a.m. Expect that energetic investment to continue, whether or not “Bros” cracks the awards conversation.
 
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