How Universal has sold its latest romantic comedy
Billy Eichner stars in – and wrote with Nicholas Stoller – this week’s new release Bros. Eichner plays Bobby Lieber, a neurotic museum curator who’s so in his own head about everything he hasn’t been very successful when it comes to relationships. That starts to change when he meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) and the two dance around each other on the way to actually dating, all as Bobby works with his team to open a museum dedicated to the LGBTQ+ experience and history.
The movie features what Universal is touting as “an entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast” and indeed has been positioned Eichner as the first openly gay man to both write and star in a major romantic comedy from a big studio.
With all that, along with the fact it was directed by Stoller and produced by Stoller and Judd Apatow, in mind, let’s take a look at the details of the campaign.
announcement and casting
Universal announced the movie in mid-2019 with Eichner writing and starring and Stoller directing.
the marketing campaign
The first trailer (393k YouTube views) – labeled as NSFW – was dropped in mid-May. Bobby is recording an episode of his podcast, which allows him to explain to his listeners and therefore the audience what the plot of the story is. Namely, that he’s been hired to write a romcom about dating and love in the LGBTQ+ world, but that the reality may not be what the people who hired him expect it to be. Along the way we see Bobby meet Aaron and interact with others in his personal and professional life and it all looks very funny.
It’s presumably Bobby and Aaron we see on the poster released at that time, though all that’s shown is two guys from the back, each one grabbing the other’s ass. Which really tells us a lot of what we need to know about the story.
Eichner was interviewed in The New York Times about what it was like to make the movie and how as a story exclusively about gay relationships it’s still an outlier among Hollywood’s output. He then was part of a conversation with collaborator Joel Kim Booster about being gay men in comedy and how that’s played out in making this movie along with other projects over the past few years.
When he appeared at the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” Eichner spoke about how an LGBTQ+ cast brings an experience to their roles that straight actors playing the same characters just can’t.
The second trailer (11.8m YouTube views) came out in mid-June. It eschews the framing device of the first trailer and also drops the plot about Bobby working on a movie script in favor of focusing on how awkward he is when it comes to relationships, even when he meets Aaron. We also see more of the drama surrounding his work on the museum and how all of that informs the problems Bobby experiences.
Because the world is just this random, Mariah Carey hosted a New York City screening of the movie complete with red carpet and a Q&A with Eichner later in June.
A feature in Rolling Stone had Eicher, Stoller and Apatow all talking about the unique aspects of a romantic comedy focused on two gay men, including how Stoller admits how he had to get over some of his more generalist impulses to fully appreciate how this story was different than those told about straight couples.
In July it was announced the film’s world premiere was scheduled for September’s Toronto Film Festival.
Macfarland got his own profile covering his career to date and how this might be the star-making turn he’s been waiting for.
In late August Eichner gave an impassioned speech at the “MTV Video Music Awards” that combined promoting the movie with railing against the majority-conservative Supreme Court that seems inclined to undo the rights of anyone who’s not a land-owning hetero cis white male.
An Out cover story featured Eichner and Macfarland talking more about the movie’s unique status. Eichner also got interviews in Rolling Stone and Variety. Additional interviews with Macfarland covered his experiences coming out as gay and filming sex scenes for the movie as well as being a gay man in the entertainment world in general.
Fathom Events in early September held movie-sponsored screenings of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (directed by Stoller, featuring Eichner and produced by Apatow) and Knocked Up (directed by Apatow).
The cast and crew were on the red carpet for the TIFF premiere, which generated almost exclusively positive reviews from those who saw it.
Fandango shared an exclusive featurette with Eichner talking about casting the movie, making it with Stoller and more.
Eichner resurrected his “Billy on the Street” gag with some help from Paul Rudd to get out and promote the movie on the streets of New York. He also talked more about the movie when he appeared on “The Late Show” and then “Late Night.” That coincided with the New York premiere event where the cast and crew once again walked the red carpet.
There was lots of advertising for the movie that began in mid-September and continued up until…roughly now. That included TV spots, online promos and pre-roll and audio spots.
A clip shows an extended look at the scene where Bobby and his other museum executives are trying to figure out the theme for the opening.
One final extended commercial has Bobby talking about the confidence he feels or at least fakes as he goes through life, citing moments when he’s been told to suppress who he is or not do something he feels passionate about.
The campaign is very good. Sometimes it feels like the “history making” aspects of the narrative are being oversold a bit, but that’s a small quibble when Eichner is out there selling the film through sheer force of will and charm. And if you check out the official Twitter account you’ll see it’s been endorsed by a who’s who of modern comedy, including many of the actors and others that Eichner, Stoller and others have worked with previously.
Whatever the movie’s opening weekend – predicted to be about $10 million – is, it stands as reasonable we should be nearing a point where stories like this don’t *have* to be heralded as so unique and groundbreaking. They can just be part of the landscape and their commercial success or failure doesn’t have to be seen as indicative of any particular narrative.