One of the biggest complaints about Borat was that Sacha Baron Cohen
went after easy targets; the movie’s gotcha humor was seen by some as
shooting fish in a barrel, and some folks even felt bad for the victims
of the pranks. That’s changed in a big way with Bruno. While watching
this film I honestly felt worried for the well-being of Cohen on more
than one occasion.
What kind of a maniac sits down with a member of the Al Aqsa Martyr
Brigade and tells him that Osama bin Laden needs a makeover because he
looks like a dirty wizard? What sort of disregard for personal safety
would make a guy playing a flaming homosexual crawl naked into a
redneck’s tent at 3 in the morning… on a hunting trip? Who would put
himself in the path of hurled metal folding chairs after making out
with a man instead of fighting him at an ultimate fighting match?
While Bruno may not quite match up with Borat in laughs, it makes up
for it in balls (and cock. If you’re offended by male nudity, stay
away). And while Borat‘s satire was more scattershot, Bruno is
political in the extreme, even going so far as having the character
attempt to marry a man in post-Prop 8 California. Of course the
question arises from that: is the political stuff well thought out? And
is it funny?
It’s very, very funny. The Cohen schtick doesn’t have the same level of
surprise for audiences that it had with Borat, so there’s a level of
laughs lost this time around. We know what to expect, and I don’t think
that Cohen ever really shocks us (although, as I said before, he does
make us fear for his life). But the jokes are great, the encounters are
hilarious and I walked out of the theater aching from laughing. As a
simple comedy I can’t recommend it enough.
But what about the politics? It’s obvious that Cohen isn’t a homophobe;
the main joke of the movie is seeing how people react to gays and thus
poking fun at our inherent homophobia. But a problem becomes obvious
early on in that the Bruno character is such a flaming wacky joke of a
human being that it’s hard to imagine anyone not reacting to him
cross-eyed – except in the fashion world, which is where the character
originated, and where he works best. There were two jokes at play with
Borat: one was about how people reacted to this guy (and a lot of the
humor came from people being really accommodating) as well as seeing
people have their own prejudices teased out by agreeing with whatever
nonsense Borat was saying. But with Bruno it’s very different – no one
will agree with him. The whole point of this character is to shock the
people he encounters, so you’ll never have those weird moments where
Borat’s anti-Semitism gets subtly embraced by the interview subject.
That’s actually not entirely fair; in the final prank Cohen seems to
really figure out how to get that same reaction with Bruno – by having
Bruno decide to go hyper-straight and throw an extreme fighting
competition, Straight Dave’s Man-Slamming Maxout. The event is
completely anti-gay themed (the attendees are given t-shirts with logos
like ‘My asshole is for shitting’), so when Bruno (in the mustachio-ed
and sort of Borat-sounding persona of Straight Dave) turns a fight into
a makeout session, the reaction of the crowd is priceless and
completely telling. One giant bald bloodthirsty fan comes to the point
of tears. It’s fitting that this is the final prank, because it’s the
culmination of everything Bruno had been trying to do to that point.
The one thing that I couldn’t help but think about as I watched the
film was how much of Bruno might be a joke on the audience itself. How
will Midwestern and Southern audiences react to the graphic gay
sexuality of the movie? On top of that there’s a growing feeling that
gay audiences might not be so eager to laugh at the character. I’m sure
Bruno will open big, but what are people going to say about it?