‘Bros’ and ‘Ticket to Paradise’ Reviews
What, exactly, are audiences looking for when it comes to romantic comedies?
Universal Pictures bet big that Billy Eichner was right and audiences were looking for a romcom centered on a gay couple, one that rejects the idea that gay and straight couples are the same or looking for the same thing—that “love is love”—one that digs into the differences between two men coupling and a heterosexual couple pairing off. This is the conceit of Bros, which Eichner wrote and stars in as Bobby Leiber, a podcaster and museum curator who has never been in love.
To quote another movie icon, Bobby is alone but he is not lonely; Grindr ensures that, even with the humiliations that go into achieving success on that platform, like trying to take a selfie of your rear end in the mirror. Monogamy is a very casual idea in and around Bobby’s world, which in turn presents a real challenge for a film trying to fit into the romcom genre: a successful romcom does not detail a sex app hookup or the establishment of a throuple but two people pairing up and settling down because this is how one finds True Happiness.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Neighbors) and produced by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), Bros is at its best as a verbally oriented raunch-com. There are a number of genuine laugh-out-loud moments in the picture, as when Bobby imagines one of his friends explaining to his elderly grandparents that he has become party to a throuple; rather than react in horror, they are delighted, as if it’s what they’ve always dreamed of celebrating.
There’s also a decent amount of sly humor aimed within the big LGBT Tent, as it were, in the form of board meetings of the museum Bobby is trying to get off the ground. Not only the bickering of the board members about which group gets how many days to celebrate their history—a tension that is echoed somewhat in the Stoller-written Zoolander 2, a movie that has largely been memoryholed since no one wants to discuss Benedict Cumberbatch’s role—but also in the efforts to raise money. Fundraising is an underappreciated avenue of humor, as anyone who has done it will tell you: rich people are fascinatingly weird, and the idea that secures Lawrence Grape’s (Bowen Yang) $5 million is hilariously dumb.
Bros wants to teach with its humor, and this is where things get dicey; walking the line between entertaining and hectoring can be difficult, particularly when your star’s voice is best known for its aggressively high-pitched wheedling. Though this itself leads to another very funny bit, when Eichner drops Bobby’s voice an octave or two to attract a partner in the gym, who freaks out when Bobby goes back to his standard intonation as they lay together in bed.
Which brings us to the bedroom; specifically how much time the film spends within it. Also on couches in living rooms. Basically anywhere two guys can couple, which is more or less everywhere. I’ll be honest: It was a bit too much time for me. Bros is a hair under two hours but it feels much longer; trimming some of the hookup sequences might have reduced the thematic impact Eichner was going for—though I think we still would’ve gotten the gist if we had, say, just one orgy scene—but it would’ve made for a more streamlined, better paced, and, frankly, more watchable movie.
Audiences seem to agree, given the film’s disastrous box office performance: Women are the primary audiences for romcoms, though you can attract men by pitching it as a raunch-com. But Bros is basically the worst of both worlds, commercially: It turns out that women aren’t interested in watching dudes make out, and straight dudes aren’t interested in watching dudes make out.
Ticket to Paradise, also from Universal, is premised on the idea that what romcom audiences actually want is what romcom audiences have always wanted: pretty, famous people falling in love in exotic locales and overcoming minor practical obstacles and somewhat larger personality problems in the pursuit of capturing an equally pretty, equally famous person as a partner.
In the case of Ticket to Paradise, the pretty people in question are Julia Roberts and George Clooney; they’re playing a divorced couple headed to Bali to stop their daughter from getting married to a local seaweed farmer after being swept off her feet. Their character names matter little; we are watching Clooney and Roberts be Clooney and Roberts. And it is quite a joy to watch them do their thing, all big smiles and tittering asides and eyerolls and distant stares.
George and Julia got divorced years ago; in a cross-cutting exposition dump, we realize they each saw the whole thing play out very differently. How will these two crazy kids reconcile their differences so they can put the kibosh on their kid’s attempt to make a similar mistake? Will Julia marry the handsome French airline pilot she’s dating? Will George be able to let his little girl go? Most importantly: Will George and Julia get back together?
Ticket to Paradise is very aggressively not reinventing the wheel here. It’s not appealing to a long-ignored market niche, like Bros was, or pulling a Scream and critiquing the rules of romcoms like Rebel Wilson’s Isn’t It Romantic. It’s not trying to update the genre for the internet age like No Strings Attached or Friends with Benefits; it’s not trying to win the meme wars like Always Be My Maybe.
No, Ticket to Paradise is doing a thing we’ve seen a million times before and doing it well and doing it with people we like to watch doing it whom we’ve seen do it before. (Ocean’s 11 may be a heist movie, technically, but there’s no small amount of romcom DNA in Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant remake.) This sort of thing isn’t exactly my cohort’s cup of tea—at my midday, midweek screening, I was the only guy in a theater that had about ten other people in it; that feels like the correct ratio—but for folks who enjoy this particular herbal blend, I imagine it hits all the proper pleasure centers.
Indeed, the very lack of reinvention may be why it’s grossed more than a hundred million dollars thus far at the global box office. One wonders if Universal is coming to the same conclusion.