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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Bruno (review)

Out-rage

There are always a lot of angry questions bandied about in the wake of any work by Sacha Baron Cohen, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone ask this one: “How far should we be expected to dumb down movies?” That’s what I always wonder when I hear those complaints about Baron Cohen’s work that generally amount to this: “Not everyone is smart enough to appreciate the subtleties of his humor, so isn’t that a bad thing? Shouldn’t we make sure that no one misinterprets Baron Cohen’s satire?”

Is this really how low we’ve sunk?
Is Baron Cohen’s Bruno — ostensibly an Austrian fashion guru and TV personality — an outrageous stereotype of homosexuality? Yes, without question. But it’s equally apparent that Bruno is not meant to send up homosexuals but to send up the sort of narrowminded bigotry that corners a dude into escaping into in-your-face outrageousness in the first place. (“Bruno” the character is also clearly a means by which to send up the idiocies of high fashion as well, but that gets far less play here than it might.) The fake working title of this movie, after all, was Bruno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt, and that’s a perfect description… though perhaps it would be more fair to say “Homophobic Heterosexual Males.” Possibly it’s worth asking whether American bigotry, self-centeredness, and pettiness is a fair target for a British comedian. But when the United States is inarguably the dominant trendsetter in global pop culture, that’s probably a question easily batted away.

Baron Cohen’s (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) daring and fearlessness as a cultural critic is in as grand a form here as it was in Borat, his last adventure in courting physical assault and civil lawsuits in the name of lampooning such dearly held American virtues as kneejerk ignorance and superficiality. (And just to be clear: it’s not that Americans are the only ones to whom such labels could be applied, just that we’re the biggest target, and have only made ourselves so.) Bruno travels to Los Angeles after having been summarily dismissed from European fashion circles, in search of fame and fortune in the New World, where he finds the natives as shallow and as status-obsessed as he is. (If we didn’t already know such places were real, wouldn’t we find the anal-bleaching salon he visits almost too presposterous to believe? Anal? Bleaching? *shudder*)

Perhaps the overarching theme of Bruno is this: There is apparently nothing so extreme you can tell Americans that they will not believe… such as that a flamboyant gay Austrian looking to expand his celebrity would buy a small black child in Africa. The unspoken critique: Why do we celebrate Brad and Angelina for importing children if it’s wrong for people whose names we don’t know to do the same? But the more important critique isn’t one about the credulity of Americans — for, indeed, we do live in a world of anal-bleaching salons and crosscultural celebrity adoptions, so why not believe it? — but this: How did we let such a world come to be? Why do we accept without even questioning the affronts to our humanity that we live with? As Bruno cruises Los Angeles and then expands out into middle America, the questions multiply: Why do we accept a world in which people are dehumanized to the point at which no one questions babies being used as status symbols, people being used as furniture, bigotries being used to divide us? Why do we accept a world in which being on camera is so vital that no one — not even those whose reputations could be dinged by being punked by a punk like Baron Cohen — does even the slightest bit of research into who it is asking for an interview? (C’mon: a quick Google will reveal that the guy who wants to talk to you on TV is pulling your leg.) Why do we accept a world in which doing good — as for a charity — is inevitably turned into good PR?

I don’t want to spoil which deserving targets get the Baron Cohen treatment, but I will say this: He is bold as a performer, as a comedian, as a cultural observer. There is no boundary or taboo it seems he will not challenge, and at points his audacity gets damn near profound. (During a quick sojourn to the Middle East, he laments that he “doesn’t have enough ecstasy for everyone” to solve the political crises there, and it makes you wonder whether, if he did and everyone could just chill and hug, it mightn’t actually work). When so many public figures are deliberately shocking and offensive because they want us to join them in being small and mean and petty and tribal — I’m thinking of the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh — Baron Cohen is doing so for the very opposite reasons. And that is a good thing, and a thing very much worth celebrating.

Oh, and it’s also outrageously funny to watch, too.


MPAA: rated R for pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • doa766

    anal-bleaching salons were made famous by Courtney Cox (just google it)

  • MaryAnn

    No thanks. Ugh.

  • Frank

    I don’t see the character as primarily targeting “the sort of narrowminded bigotry that corners a dude into escaping into in-your-face outrageousness in the first place,” but instead demonstrating how ridiculous it is when homophobes think ALL gay men are this way. It is an outlandish stereotype; however, for a large subset of people, it’s their view of reality. That’s the main target of the satire.

  • doa766

    it’s too bad he already made a movie starring Ali G and it sucked

  • Tim1974

    I have absolutely no interest in seeing this film. I find absolutely nothing, even in the slightest, funny about Cohen. In addition, I have no interest in seeing a film that contuinues the double standard of showing gratuitous male genitals only. It is way past redundant and disturbingly disgusting. To me, the so called humor, the farce in trying to make a point, and the gratuitous nudity make this film nothing more than trash.

  • Scarlet

    So are you okay with gratuitous female nudity then? Do you find it “disturbingly disgusting” too?

    And where’s the “double standard” here? 99% of the gratuitous nudity displayed in movies is female. If anyone is applying double standards, it’s the rest of the industry, not Baron Cohen.

  • NoelTorrey

    Let me ask this to people who try to compare breasts to a males penis, what part of the male anatomy do you think is the equivalent to a females vulva?

    Also, can anyone even source a medical doctor with a respected practice and a degree which took years to accomplish, who is willing to say that female breasts are equivalent to a male penis?

    I’m sure they would be laughed out of their profession.

    Anyways I will not go to see a movie or watch tv shows as they degrade me in such a way, I have no problem looking at a penis, if the industry would have no problem looking at a vulva, and no you don’t need to go gyno to see a vulva, example “Broken Flowers”, and woman in general are not homophobic about themselves, I know, I have talked to lots of them about this issue.

    Anyways it’s the principle of the matter, right is right and wrong is wrong.

    Thanks for letting me voice my opinion. =)

  • Scarlet

    Yes, because there are penises EVERYWHERE in mainstream movies…
    And breasts aren’t sexualized AT ALL.

    And I have no idea what you are supposed to mean with your paragraph about gynos, vulvas and women not being “homophobic about themselves”.

  • Dave in EH

    How long do you imagine “Bruno” would survive, say, in Belfast on a bad Saturday night, walking down the Falls Road? Frankly, Sascha does hit shtick here because, were he to do to equivalently homophobic areas in the UK, they’d carry him out in a body-bag.

    This shtick of Cohen’s is silly. Behaving outrageously in the middle of “fly-over” country is going to draw stares, full stop, just as it would in the rural UK.

  • Fett101

    I have no interest in seeing a film that contuinues the double standard of showing gratuitous male genitals only.

    There is female genitalia too, though not as predominant. Anyway, it is a film about a gay man. Also, is there some sort of affirmative action statute regarding genitals that we’re unaware of? I always thought people were usually agitated by constant the exploitation of the female body?

    Frankly, Sascha does hit shtick here because, were he to do to equivalently homophobic areas in the UK, they’d carry him out in a body-bag.

    There are two specific scenes in which I was wondering about the safety of Cohen. (though it is possible the ‘terrorist’ scene was staged) I would not consider Alabama or Arkansas to be that tolerant of flamboyant homosexuals.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    How long do you imagine “Bruno” would survive, say, in Belfast on a bad Saturday night, walking down the Falls Road? Frankly, Sascha does hit shtick here because, were he to do to equivalently homophobic areas in the UK, they’d carry him out in a body-bag.

    You are aware that he worked for years in the UK before moving out to America, right? Admittedly Bruno was only developed for his HBO show, but I wouldn’t call some of the Borat and Ali G material he did in Britain safe.

  • MBI

    Though Sacha Baron Cohen’s vision of America is almost entirely one of horror, there was one scene in “Borat” that brought it home for me, and that was the fratboy bus scene. Those were the most terrifyingly stupid people I’ve ever seen. “Bruno” matched that scene with the dumbshit “charity PR consultants,” who looked like they should be hosting a talk show on the Playboy Channel. I felt so bad for humanity.

  • MBI

    “Why do we accept a world in which being on camera is so vital that no one — not even those whose reputations could be dinged by being punked by a punk like Baron Cohen — does even the slightest bit of research into who it is asking for an interview?”

    During the baby liposuction scene, I was thinking — no way do these people not know what’s going on. They’re saying yes to the most ridiculous things because they know they’re going to get into a Sacha Baron Cohen movie.

    Then I realized that even that is horrifying.

  • David

    I think it is hilarious that NoelTorrey includes as part of his sophomoric rant references to the male penis and female vulva as if there were other kinds. LOL

  • Mitch

    David, lighten up on NoelTorrey – he just did that so people woundn’t think he was talking about the female penis or the male vulva! ROFL

  • MBI

    “How long do you imagine “Bruno” would survive, say, in Belfast on a bad Saturday night, walking down the Falls Road? Frankly, Sascha does hit shtick here because, were he to do to equivalently homophobic areas in the UK, they’d carry him out in a body-bag. ”

    Yeah… watch the movie for the extensive middle segment where he does his shtick in the notoriously gay-friendly Middle East.

  • NotQuiteAFan

    My main complaint with this movie so far is that SBC aimed for easy targets. Rednecks, talk show audiences, parents hellbent on making their child a star — even consenting to having their baby push a wheelbarrow loaded with babies into an oven, Holocaust-style.

    If SBC actually revealed the homophobia prevalent in country clubs, New England prep schools and Fortune 500 companies, it would’ve been one rung higher than Borat. It takes time and more finesse to do that though, not the kind of shock and awe comedy SBC is good at.

  • KLW

    I won’t see this movie. The small portion of Borat that I watched was enough to confirm the hunch I had that I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I didn’t in the least. I’m in total disagreement with a prevailing notion in entertainment these days that outrageousness is equivalent to wit and cleverness.

  • Not everyone is smart enough to appreciate the subtleties of his humor, so isn’t that a bad thing?

    Oh, brother. I wouldn’t exactly call Baron Cohen’s humor all that subtle.

    But then it’s been obvious since Borat came out a few years ago that his work isn’t my cup of tea so let’s leave it at that.

    I have way too many shows and movies in my Netflix queue as it is…

  • mark c

    No interest in seing this movie.

    Feedback i have was it was in your face gay sex. Not something that I want to see, or even think about.

  • Victor Plenty

    Mark C, that’s understandable. For you, “in your face gay sex” most likely brings up uncomfortably vivid subconscious images of your intellectual submission to the right wing talk show hosts who have so thoroughly conditioned you to suck down and swallow their manly emissions.

    Vivid reminders like that must make it so hard to live in a state of denial. So very, very hard.

    Yes, you poor Republicans have a long, hard road ahead of you. A long, hard, throbbing road. A road made even harder by the tireless way your leaders keep pounding their message into you.

  • JoshB

    Damn Victor Plenty, you’re usually so earnest. I didn’t know you were capable of such assholocity. I’m kinda impressed!

  • Victor Plenty

    Well, JoshB, you’ve got me all wrong! My comment to Mark C was just an example of good-natured ribbing.

    He seems like he could use a good ribbing.

    A nice, long, slow… ah, never mind.

  • Zack

    This movie was the most halarious thing iv ever seen just knowing cohen made it out alive is amazing

  • Rats

    “How long do you imagine “Bruno” would survive, say, in Belfast on a bad Saturday night, walking down the Falls Road? Frankly, Sascha does hit shtick here because, were he to do to equivalently homophobic areas in the UK, they’d carry him out in a body-bag. ”

    Not that this comment hasn’t already been addressed, but Bruno was a character of SCB’s before the movie, and he DID take on homophobia in the UK.

    Here he is interviewing Skinheads:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wU8nhHYlQ-I

    I’m not sure how much closer to death he can bring himself. Maybe going to the Middle East and speaking directly to a former terrorist as his flamboyantly gay character?
    He discusses that interview here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qk2oee2kjT8

    And considering that the terrorist is suing, I don’t think it was faked at all:
    http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=103797

    Regardless of whether or not you enjoy his comedy, I don’t see that you can rationally suggest that he’s only picking America out of cowardice.

  • Dave

    Actually the character’s name is BRÜNO and not Bruno. I have no problem pronouncing that ü in the middle but appearantly many English speakers have. Why on earth? It’s baby easy.

  • Goon

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Fight_the_MPAA/message/120

    check out Tim1974’s pathetic group of losers

  • wweerrr

    I agree with this review soo much, people are just so offended by the kind of humor, but they are not looking to the point of it…bleh and people who are saying its gay sex in your face its soo not, you just want movies that makes you feel you are correct, but anything that may cause you to think again noooo its too terrifying.

    I loved the movie that it just shows how people are really superficial and the world they so believe in is just cause they are making sure it stays that way not that they have any experience or knowledge i.e. too afraid to question (it is scary idd but if you dont then whats the point..)

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