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FilmWatch Weekly: ‘Bros,’ ‘The Good House,’ plus Lithuanian sci-fi, Irish melancholy, and a memorable ‘Beer Run’

A charming gay romantic comedy tops the week; Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline team up smartly again.

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Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in “Bros.”

It’s not every week when a romantic comedy from a big Hollywood studio is the best new film opening, but even a blind dog finds a bone once in a while. That bone, in this case, is Bros, a metaphor of which its creators, not to mention its characters, would surely approve.

Bros is Universal Studios’ Big Gay Movie, and writer-star Billy Eichner’s coming-out party as a big-screen presence. It exists entirely on its own terms, as exemplified in an early sequence where Bobby Leiber (Eichner), a successful podcaster, recounts a pitch meeting he had with a Hollywood suit. The exec is looking for a gay movie that “a straight guy would take his girlfriend to,” one that demonstrates “love is love.”

Our hero’s response: “That’s bullshit.” And yet, Bros ends up as an excellent date-night movie, no matter what genders or identities the daters are, or how many of them. It’s smart, funny, adorable, and sexy, or at least it was to this cis-het viewer.

Eichner essentially plays himself: the neurotic, aggressive, chatterbox familiar from his web series “Billy on the Street” and the Hulu series “Difficult People.” His terminally single, fortysomething life of Grindr hookups and catty nightclub commentary is interrupted when he meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane), the hunkiest probate attorney in the known universe.

Bobby is a bit of a celebrity, having been dubbed Best Cis White Gay Man at a recent Pride Award ceremony and named the head of the board for New York’s first LGBTQ+ history museum. That gig provides the opportunity for plenty of internecine jabs between the various bi, trans, and lesbian members during the stressful run-up to the museum’s opening.

Meanwhile, Bobby and Aaron, despite their mutual misgivings, are drawn closer to each other. This despite the fact that Aaron enjoys foursomes, loves Garth Brooks, and sends GIFs from “The Office,” none of which appeals remotely to Bobby. Their relationship blossoms during a museum fundraising trip to Provincetown that includes a hilarious cameo from SNL’s Bowen Yang as a wealthy gay benefactor.

The course of true love and all that, though: Bobby’s assertive, acerbic politics creates waves, and an old high school crush of Aaron’s re-enters his life. But there’s never any doubt where these Bros will end up, although it’s grand fun getting there.

Throughout, Eichner and co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) pepper the proceedings with in-jokes and cameos from the likes of Kristin Chenoweth, Debra Messing, and Harvey Fierstein (plus a few more that shouldn’t be spoiled). It’s a mark of the mainstream’s increased comfort with LGBTQ-themed content that topics like poppers, thruples, and tops v. bottoms barely prompt the bat of an eyelid. Eichner and Macfarlane (who’s relentlessly charming) have one of the funniest sex scenes in memory.

Whatever credit Bros deserves for pushing boundaries and embodying inclusivity, however, would be academic if the movie wasn’t good. By effortlessly borrowing the hallowed tropes of its genre, though, and playing them expertly out in a thoroughly modern context, it’s on track to be one of the most uproarious, crowd-pleasing films of the year. (Opens Friday, September 30, at multiple theaters.)

***

Bros isn’t the only Hollywood release to punch above its weight this week. The Sigourney Weaver-Kevin Kline drama The Good House looks from its marketing to be a typical tale of bougie mid-life crisis, but thanks mostly to its leads, it’s a compelling story of addiction and generational trauma.

Hildy Good (Weaver) is a seemingly successful realtor in a picture-perfect community on Boston’s north shore. Beneath her competent exterior, though, she’s got issues. Business hasn’t been great, partially thanks to a traitorous former employee-turned-competitor, partially thanks to her residual bitterness toward her ex-husband (who left her for a man), but mostly due to her alcoholism.

Having already returned from one involuntary trip to rehab, Hildy continues to sneak mugs of Merlot on lonely evenings. Frequently addressing the camera, she makes all the expected excuses and deflections, from “I never drink before five” to “I was born three drinks shy.” Meanwhile, her occasional encounters with unpretentious old flame Frank (Kline) set him up as a middle-aged, male version of a manic pixie dream girl whose only role in the story is to help her connect with her true self and realize what’s important in life.

From those twin narratives, one might expect an above-average Lifetime movie. But writer-directors Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky put their A-level cast to good use. (The pair have been married since 2004, but this is their first time co-directing.) Weaver and Kline are every inch the old pros in their third on-screen pairing (1991’s Dave and 1999’s The Ice Storm, if anybody asks). Weaver in particular demonstrates that she hasn’t lost a step, imbuing a “difficult” woman with texture and, crucially, history. The Good House also does what so many movies about addiction don’t: It shows just how fun and even rewarding alcohol (in this case) can be—until it isn’t. (Opens Friday, Sept. 30 at multiple theaters.)

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ALSO OPENING:

Vesper: Who’s up for a little Lithuanian post-apocalyptic adventure? This English-language feature, shot in the Baltic nation, is the first feature from writer-directors Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper since 2012’s remarkable Vanishing Waves, an equally inventive sci-fi fable made with limited resources. Here, the story focuses on Vesper (British actress Raffiella Chapman), an adolescent girl tending to her paralyzed father (Eddie Marsan) in a world that has been decimated by environmental catastrophe and unfettered genetic engineering. The vibe is very techno-organic, with lots of gooey machine innards and carnivorous glowing plants. When a flying craft from the distant Citadel crashes, Vesper tends to its only survivor, a mysterious, angelic figure who may offer the only hope for escape from her grim life—and even, perhaps the promise of a new world. Vesper is an engaging, oddly uplifting genre entry that should reward a big-screen viewing. (Opens Friday, Sept. 30 at Cinemagic.)

God’s Creatures: This movie is so Irish it makes The Crying Game look like A Man for All Seasons. Emily Watson stars as a devoted mother who works at the fish processing plant in her barren coastal village. When her eldest son, Brian (Paul Mescal), returns from an unexplained, years-long absence in Australia, she couldn’t be more pleased. But when Brian is accused of a heinous crime, she’s forced to choose between her devotion to him and her personal morality, a choice made harder by the ways that a close-knit community such as this one can rally around its own.

This is the week for directing duos, it seems. Saela Davis and Anna Rose Helmer previously collaborated on the remarkable 2015 film The Fits (the former as co-writer and editor, the latter as co-writer and director). Here they’ve crafted a gloomy fable that takes nearly an hour to shift from establishing a mood to moving its story forward. Well-played, but nothing you haven’t seen before. (Opens Friday, September 30, at the Salem Cinema.)

The Greatest Beer Run Ever: It’s hard to believe it’s been less than four years since director Peter Farrelly’s feel-good civil rights saga, Green Book, won three Oscars, including Best Picture. The film has vanished from the cultural landscape more quickly than any Best Picture winner since Crash (another clumsy parable about race), but it cemented Farrelly’s transition from one-half of the team behind There’s Something About Mary to a certified Serious Filmmaker.

Now he’s back with another Boomer-friendly take on the divisive 1960s, in which Zac Efron plays a charming layabout who decides to deliver a duffel full of Pabst Blue Ribbon to his neighborhood homies who’ve been shipped off to fight in Vietnam. Based (at least to some extent) on a true story, it’s a creaky, obvious tale of a blue-collar troop-supporter’s eventual eye-opening to the deception and slaughter American TV viewers weren’t seeing in 1967. It’s also about as probing and insightful as the average episode of “The Wonder Years.” (Available to stream on Friday, September 30 on Apple TV+.)

Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since. As the former manager of the landmark independent video store Trilogy, and later the owner of Portland’s first DVD-only rental spot, Video Vérité, he immersed himself in the cinematic education that led to his position as a freelance film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became apparent that “newspaper film critic” was no longer a sustainable career option, Mohan pursued a new path, enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in the fall of 2017. He can’t quite seem to break the habit, though, of loving and writing about movies.

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