I have a brother but he’s not my bro, at least by the contemporary definition. My sibling and I are biologically brothers but neither of us fall into what the NPR Codeswitch blog described as the four rudimentary characteristics of “bro-iness”— jockish, dudely, stoner-ish and preppy.
There are as many ways to define bros and brahs as there are bros and brahs at your local frat house. Oxford Dictionary writer Katherine Connor Martin sums it up simply as “a conventional guy’s guy who spends a lot of time partying with other young men like himself.” The urban dictionary isn’t quite as elegant, describing bros as ”obnoxious partying males who are often seen at college parties… [standing] around holding a red plastic cup waiting for something exciting to happen so they can scream something that demonstrates how much they enjoy partying”
This weekend Zac Efron and Adam DeVine play brothers who are also bros in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Based on the real-life exploits of Mike and Dave Stangle, the guys get out-broed at their sister’s Hawaiian wedding by broettes Tatiana and Alice (Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick).
In real life Mike, Dave, Tatiana and Alice are the kind of people it might be fun to hang out with before ten o’clock at night, before the tequila shots and samplings from the mystery medicine cabinet have taken effect. After that, all bets are off. Luckily in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, like so many bro movies before it, the screen separates us and we can sit back and observe them like cultural anthropologists, as if we’re studying animals in a zoo.
Hollywood has long had a bromance with bros. Lately in movies like Neighbors and Dirty Grandpa Efron has made a career of playing dim witted frat boys but to find the proto bros you have to go back to 1940. Starting with Road to Singapore Bob Hope and Bing Crosby cocktailed and adlibbed their way through seven Road movies playing two slightly skeezy men with boatloads of bravado and an unbreakable bond—at least until love interest Dorothy Lamour showed up.
National Lampoon’s Animal House was the next landmark of bro-cinema. From toga parties to food fights and doing The Worm on the dance floor, it’s a politically incorrect classic that celebrates the best and worst of bro culture.
A 1996 movie gave us the bro with a million catchphrases like “Vegas, baby,” “wingman,” “beautiful babies” and “you’re so money.” As Trent in Swingers Vince Vaughn gave a voice and brocabulary to a generation of bros. Jon Favreau wrote the script but many of the sayings came directly from the lips of his best friends and co-stars Vaughn and Ron Livingston.
No look at bro-cinema would be complete without a nod toward Will Ferrell. The comedian has broed out on screen many times but Old School’s Frank the Tank, a character who unravels after his wife leaves him, is King Bro. When he’s not doing beer bong hits (“Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!”) or streaking he lets his freak flag fly as one of the most over-the-top bros ever seen on screen.
Dean Wormer’s classic scolding from Animal House, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son,” doesn’t seem to apply, at least at the movies.
The director who used elaborate special effects to make Iron Man soar through the night sky and a spaceship land in the Wild West says, “there is nothing more cinematic and exciting than watching food be prepared.”
Jon Favreau, helmer of blockbusters like Iron Man 1 and 2 and Cowboys & Aliens, adds, “Modestly budgeted films like Eat Drink Man Woman or Jiro Dreams of Sushi are as compelling as any big budgeted Hollywood movie.”
In his new film Chef (which he wrote, directed, produced and stars in), Favreau plays Carl Casper, a chef set on a new culinary path after an influential food critic gives his restaurant a savage review.
The nugget of inspiration for the movie came two decades ago when Swingers, another film Favreau wrote and starred in, became a hit.
“The Big Night came out the year Swingers did,” he says, “and I remember seeing that film and feeling like they had really accomplished so much. With Swingers we had certain modest accomplishments. I was satisfied with it, but Big Night felt like a movie and felt like they had captured something larger.
“Maybe that was in the back of my head for the last 20 years. There was an envy that I had of what they were able to accomplish with the music, the culture, the performances, the food and how delightful it was. So I finally got to make my food movie.”
In those 20 years, Favreau has been in the Hollywood trenches as a producer, director, actor and writer and is quick to note the similarities and differences between the story of Chef and his real-life work in the movie business.
“The archetypes of the players on the stage in the food world and the movie world are very similar,” he says.
“The stakes are a bit higher in the food world, which is why it is dramatically appealing. One bad review can shut you down. Right now, the way reviews work in movies is that you’re reading 90 reviews. It’s all on Rotten Tomatoes, a compilation of numbers and you don’t really have that personal relationship with a specific critic as you do in the theatre world or the food world. In the food world you are eye-to-eye with that critic and you are eye-to-eye with the customer and when that food gets sent back to the kitchen you are looking at that plate. It’s a lot different.”
Favreau’s next film is a live-action remake of The Jungle Book, but he says he’ll likely flip-flop between big- and small-budget films in future.
“If I knew I could come up with a small story that I’d be excited about, next year I’d do this again but honestly, it hasn’t been since Swingers that I’ve been able to sit down and write something so fully formed so quickly.
“I somewhat envy the filmmakers who can come up with a small story each year because this was the best experience I’ve ever had.”