Billy Eichner made a great rom-com. Now it’s the audience’s turn.

NEW YORK (AP) — At the world premiere of “Brothers” at the Toronto International Film Festival, Billy Eichner urged the crowd…

NEW YORK (AP) — At the world premiere of “Brothers” at the Toronto International Film Festival, Billy Eichner urged the crowd to keep cheering.

“Go on!” Eichner prayed. “I want a longer standing ovation than ‘Keith!’ “”

Ahead of the release of Brothers, Eichner worked tirelessly to whip audiences into a frenzy for a film unlike any other Hollywood film. A lot depends on the movies, and not just because Eichner, the 44-year-old comedian of “Billy on the Street,” has been working on his big-screen breakthrough for five years. Brothers is the first gay rom-com from a major studio and the first studio film starring and co-written by an openly gay man.

Arousing excitement, Eichner promoted these differences, lamented that they had been going on for so long, and parodied his role in trying to pitch his film to America. Revamping his “Billy on the Street” persona, Eichner ran around Hollywood with Jack Black shouting, “I need allies!” Running around New York’s Flat Iron Building with Paul Rudd, he exclaimed, “I’ve been working for this for 20 years! I need a straight man to go see “Brothers!”

At the MTV VMAs, Eichner raised the stakes more dramatically, urging people to watch “Brothers” because “we need to show all the homophobes like Clarence Thomas and all the homophobes on the Supreme Court that we want gay love stories and that we support LGBTQ- people and we do not allow them to drag us back to the last century, because they are in the past and the Brothers are the future.

“Brothers,” directed by Nicholas Stoller and produced by Judd Apatow, is an attempt to challenge the Hollywood status quo, in which it was more convenient to make gay characters partners, roommates or fodder for the transformation of straight actors than the heroes of love stories. And by all accounts—the rousing reception at TIFF, rave reviews (95% fresh on Rotten Tomatoe), and even the hard-to-impress Elena recommendation of Billy on the Street—Eichner has made the movie of the moment. Now it’s the audience’s turn to prove that Eichner’s prediction about the future of “Brothers” is correct.

In a recent interview as “Bros-Mobile,” a 44-seat mobile movie theater, made its way through Philadelphia on a national tour, Eichner said he wanted everyone to see “Bros.” Sylvester Stallone? “I think Sylvester Stallone would love Brothers.” Meryl Streep? “My God. She’s number one on my list.”

Made with an almost exclusively LGBTQ cast, Brothers , which stars Eichner and Hallmark Channel veteran Luke MacFarlane, is an unusually intimate, R-rated look at gay life that’s funny, moving and a little angry about how LGBTQ characters are usually portrayed in studio films.

“We’re so often portrayed as something that’s too simplistic, and I think that’s because that’s what audiences are used to, that’s what Hollywood is used to, and that’s what everyone’s decided that people like that version of us,” Eichner says. “You didn’t really have to deal with us as real, complex people.”

“I told Judd and Nick this: I grew up on all those great rom-coms like Moonlight, Working Girl, and Breaking News, which is my favorite movie of all time. These films were about adults,” adds Eichner. “We don’t have a gay equivalent of that. And they hardly make such direct films.’

In recent years, even the broadest comedies have struggled to find a place in theaters. Stoller, director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Neighbors, was surprised by the trend and the slow pace of inclusion in comedy on the big screen.

“Before Bridesmaids came out, the whole industry was like, ‘Comedy? Women in leading roles? It won’t work,” says Stoler. “Of course, it worked! Half of the people are women!”

Stoller originally approached Eichner about the collaboration after being impressed by his performance on the sitcom Friends From College, which Stoller created with his wife Francesca Delbanco. They spent two years working on the script, starting with conversations that Stoller likens to therapy sessions. As with Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Russell Brand in Take Him to the Greeks, Stoller peppered Eichner with questions about his life.

“He really wanted to do these monologues, which I thought were risky but also very interesting,” Stoler says. “He comes from some kind of quasi-standup. Prior to Billy on the Street, he was doing off-Broadway. So he would write these monologues that were self-aware and sort of explained to the audience. I think it’s based on him having to explain to Hollywood over and over again who he is and what makes him funny.”

In five seasons of “Street Billy,” in which Eichner interrogated and berated New York City passers-by for their knowledge of pop culture, the Queens native turned his love-hate relationship with Hollywood into hysterical, anger-filled encounters. But when writing “Brothers” with Stoller, he wanted to do something more sincere.

“When I thought about what I wanted this film to be, I realized that this is a huge and unique opportunity for me and for LGBTQ people and for the general audience to understand who we really are.” says Eichner. “Because it’s a Judd Apatow movie, and straight people love Judd Apatow movies.”

Eichner and Stoller were aiming for something that could navigate the love life of a commitment-phobic New Yorker (not unlike Eichner himself), while honoring the unique complexities of gay love and commenting on its common media portrayals. The result is a film that still strives to please the crowd.

“This movie tested higher than any movie I’ve worked on in its first test screenings,” Stoller says. “The audience immediately liked it. It was interesting because you get the feeling that gay audiences will laugh at certain jokes that straight people don’t get, but then everyone laughs at certain things together.”

Stoller recalls some of his favorite test audience comments. Gay replied, “I don’t know if I want our secrets to be known.” The natural guy said of the film’s sex scenes, “I was uncomfortable, but I loved it.”

Some have suggested that Eichner exaggerated the historical nature of The Brothers. A Gawker headline read, “Billy Eichner is the first gay man ever.” Recently, there have been several films about gay romances, such as the more dramatic Love Simon (2018), as well as streaming releases such as Netflix’s Happiest Season (2020) and Hulu’s Fire Island from the beginning this year.

But “Brothers” is trying to reach a mass audience in theaters in the highly recognizable medium of an Apatow-directed comedy — to be 2022’s answer to “Shoulders.” The film already has some evidence of trolling. This week, IMDB removed hundreds of one-star reviews for the movie “Brothers” in an apparent attempt to bomb the movie before its release.

For Jim Rush, the “Descendants” screenwriter and “Community” actor who plays Eichner’s co-star in the film, the set of “Brothers” was unlike any he’s worked on before.

“I played characters who were straight. I played gay. I played in the closet. I played the “might be gay” game. But ‘Brothers’ was a film where what you see on the screen is a complete reflection of him,” says Rush. “There is a safe space when we know that someone is at the helm who is very focused on the diversity of the environment he is creating. It was intrinsically because you were with your community.”

“Brothers” has some ugly comic scenes and some tried-and-true romantic moments of the genre. But one thing that may surprise fans of “Billy on the Street” is just how serious it is. One scene takes place on a beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in which Eichner delivers a tender monologue about what it’s like to open up to love, which is also part of the “Brothers” revolution.

“The Way We Were” was just as big an influence on “Brothers” as “Bridesmaids.” I miss that in the movies,” says Eichner. “Especially for gay men, the romance of our lives is simply nowhere to be found. There is much to be cynical about in the world. But I think this is an opportunity for people to stop and say, let’s take love stories and great comedies about life and the human condition as seriously as we take stories about a man dressed as a bat saving Gotham City.”


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