In grim but not surprising news, Universal’s Bros became the latest live-action theatrical comedy to play in primarily empty theaters. The Billy Eichner/Luke Macfarlane-starring romantic comedy earned just $4.8 million over the weekend. That includes $1.84 million on Friday, which includes $500,000 in Thursday previews. That’s a lower debut than Jo Koy’s Easter Sunday, which grossed $5.44 million in early August. The $22 million release, written by Eichner and Nicolas Stoller and directed by Stoller, is technically the first mainstream, wide theatrical release rom-com starring a same-sex couple. Alas, the trailers and much of the media coverage emphasized its importance, groundbreaking existence, and social value over whether the film is funny.
I think the film falls into the same trap, thriving when it’s ‘just’ a rom-com but stopping dead in its tracks to congratulate itself on its existence and hit every LGBTQIA discussion point. The media coverage is symptomatic of a widespread pet peeve: every major celebrity profile emphasizes demographic triumph and aspirational empowerment. Notice how many are headlined with some uplifting variation of The Dixie Chick’s righteously angry “Not Ready to Make Nice.” That stuff may make the clients happy, including stories about how every new young actor is the next great leading man/woman on their way to conquering Hollywood and may drive social attention. However, it doesn’t sell tickets.
However, the film earned an A from Cinemascore and has 91% and 7.18/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, so (like Smile, which I felt was a warmed-over, inferior riff on its cinematic predecessors), I’m clearly in the minority. I loved David O. Russell’s Amsterdam, so maybe I’m devolving into a bitter contrarian. Without discounting widespread homophobia as an issue, Bros was an original, R-rated, star-free romantic comedy released when even Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell and Melissa McCarthy now make their movies for Netflix
Bros. should have existed (and might have flourished) 25 years ago, coming off the successes of The Birdcage and In and Out. Hollywood ignored its late-90s inclusive success stories (Waiting to Exhale, Rush Hour, Anaconda, etc.) and spent the 2000s and most of the 2010s chasing four-quadrant ‘white guy discovers he’s the special and saves the day while getting the girl’ action fantasy franchises. That we’re only getting films like Bros or Love Simon (or even Fear Street and The Mitchells Vs. The Machines, which were supposed to be theatrical before Covid) now is inexcusable. That’s the subtext of Bros’ best scene (whereby our lead mourns his parents not living long enough to see his success).
It’s an outrage in terms of the time lost, careers unfulfilled and social progress left undone while Hollywood chased Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean and Shrek and then spent a decade chasing The Avengers as a skewed ‘only hetero white men can save us from Al Quada’ reaction to 9/11. Hollywood kinda-sorta pulled its head out of its ass in the mid-2010s concerning the commercial value of ‘not a white guy’ movies, only to crash into a new normal whereby studio programmers have far less theatrical potential than they did in pre-streaming times. Bros will probably end up with over/under $12 million domestic, hoping that PVOD will ride to the rescue. Dammit.
Mani Ratnam’s Tamil-language period action epic Ponniyin Selvan I opened on Friday in 510 theaters. The first film in a two-part adaptation of Kaiki Krishnamurthy’s 1955 novel stars the likes of Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Jayam Ravi, Karthi and Trisha. Despite little domestic media attention (I’ll confess to having missed it), the picture earned $2.14 million on Friday for around $4.11 million in its opening weekend. That’s a whopping $8,059 per-theater average and a gross on par with Disney’s Brahmastra Part One: Shiva ($4.5 million in 810 theaters) with much more coverage and marketing. It’s a slightly larger per-theater average than RRR ($9.5 million in 1,200 theaters last March). It is a damn solid debut for a comparatively (at least from where I’m sitting) under-the-radar Indian release.