This morning I got up at 4:30 and, along with friends, tried to get tickets for Shakespeare In The Park’s version of Twelfth Night. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the line for the free tickets was so packed that they told people to not even try and wait around the six or so hours until the tickets were actually given out. So, at around 10 AM, we decided the best way to really start the day was to go and see Brüno. I certainly didn’t need coffee.
Brüno, the follow-up to 2006’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, again teams Larry Charles behind the camera and Sacha Baron Cohen making an ass of himself and others in front of it. The first, second, and third reason to see this film should involve you sitting in awe at the talent of Baron Cohen. Borat showcased his ability to talk people into circles, to be oblivious without tipping his hat, and an incredible sense of timing, not to mention an incredible focus to stay in character.
In Brüno (and as Brüno), he continues the commitment, but the jokes come from a much more physical place, turning into some sort of nympho Charlie Chaplin. He goes far beyond the necessary zeal to sell very physical jokes, anything from simply dancing to being the recipient of an…unorthodox work out. At no point do you see him sweat, even in the now-famous scene with Donny and company out hunting in the woods in the American south. Baron Cohen can still be quick and incredibly daring even with the threat of guns surrounding him. We haven’t seen someone with this sort of commitment to character and fearlessness since Peter Sellers, and we should appreciate it.
A lot of the hype coming into the movie dealt with how the different groups that Brüno represents would react to the film, specifically the gay and lesbian community (and less specifically angry Austrians). From the trailer, it looked as if a lot of this film was going to be, “look how dumb and homophobic all these people are!” Instead, the irritation came not from his sexually, but rather the constant annoyance of someone–anyone–who just won’t stop pestering you. There weren’t any real gay slanders in the moment; the notable ones (the sloppy ending and Ron Paul) seemed to be cajoled out of the subjects after the fact and shoehorned in so it’s “real.”
Brüno, more than anything, is just incredibly ego-centric. His goal in the film is to go to America to “become famous,” and all of his actions are justified by his selfish desire to put himself over. That’s why he adopts the African child, tries to find a cause to get behind as a PR move, and is so outwardly gay to the point of offense. In our celebrity culture, people are photographed buying shoes and going to Starbucks: wouldn’t something like Brüno be a natural progression? Someone who thinks so much of himself that he assumes others would want to know about it, even down to his exceedingly graphic sexual encounters. And why not? We’ve already had some people strip on their twitter (NSFW), is Brüno that much of a leap?
The biggest difference between Brüno and Borat is who we laugh at. The character of Borat was an innocent, peering in from the outside to try to understand why we are the way we are. For the comedic aspect, he was a cypher for common Americans, but also was able to show how easily people can fall into a group mentality and say vile things if they believe that is what is asked of them. Borat was almost selfless, able to soak up what others wanted while trying to fit in to the American culture.
Brüno, on the other hand, is coming to conquer, and the demeanor of the film is changed because of it. While there are some notable idiots in Brüno (parents willing to do anything to get their children into a photo shoot, the two women trying to get Bruno a cause to get behind), the most disgusting thing throughout the film is Brüno himself. Instead of laughing at these people in the little scenes, I kept feeling bad for the people involved who shouldn’t have to deal with this ridiculous crap. What makes the “I’m Donny” joke work so well is how this poor guy is in this inescapable situation and is trying his best to just make it OK.
As a film itself, Brüno isn’t terribly well done. It seems as if they had a movie to make, but couldn’t get the access and reactions that they wanted, making the entire affair seem slapdash and hastily thrown together. When some resolution to the plot occurs, I completely forgot that there was a central plot. The editing feels very manipulative, particularly in the final scene, where reactions are definitely out of place and thrown in to get the “feel” for what the filmmakers were after.
Charles and Co. seemed to want to make a movie with a country that is not comfortable with homosexuality, and there are certainly reactions in the film that push that narrative, but not as much as you’d assume. Where they’ve failed, I think we as a society sort of succeed. Maybe we’re not as comfortable with it, but we’re certainly more accepting. The last line of the film seems like a tacked-on “let’s get GLAAD off our backs” situation, where Snoop Dogg raps, “Brüno’s gay,” and then finishes with a resolute, “ok.” I guess it is…but I’ll still laugh at how uncomfortable it makes me when pushed to the limits of good taste.