Friday, July 10, 2009
Brüno (Movie Review)
I want to be Brüno. In my day I’ve lost a job, been kicked by a cop, spent a night in jail, and logged upward to 30 or so mean-spirited messages on my phone—all for conducting myself in perfectly legal, private, and on occasion even community-spirited ways outside the heterosexual norm. But, damn, I’ve never told a Palestinian terrorist to his face that he needs to do something with his uninteresting hair or approached protesters from Fred Phelps’ (God-Hates-Fags) Westboro Baptist Church to help me disengage from my partner to whom I’m chained and handcuffed while anally impaled by a TV remote. Sacha Baron Cohen has—and he’s not even gay.
Unlike Borat, the character Cohen explored in 2006’s quasi-documentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America …, Brüno is not a stranger to Western culture. Borat was naïve because of geographic isolation, and Brüno too is naïve, but because of self-absorption—less because he’s gay (over-the-top über-gay) than because of his involvement in the fashion industry—a world to itself (as any watcher of Bravo knows) every bit as tribal, myopic, dim-witted, and cruel just for the sport of it as any real or fictitious Kazakhstan.
Brüno is so out of touch with the media’s concept of “real issues” as to think Hamas is hummus, Ron Paul is RuPaul (so did I, for about a month, I blush to admit), OJ is a traditional African name, Darfur is in Iraq, and John Travolta is straight. The film’s focus is on homophobia—homophobia in show business, in religion, and on the streets and among African-Americans, politicians, and good ole boys in the South. The few reviews I’ve read have attempted (from whatever motives) to downplay this aspect of the film. But the movie also deals with the West’s celebrity and fame obsession, its hair-trigger willingness to take offense, the follies of its public relations firms, its touchiness over matters relating to race and class, and, yes, post-Reagan-era gays’ simultaneous yet contradictory fixations on the outré and mainstream assimilation.
Brüno the film is, of course, not for everybody. Anybody offended by the “exploitative” and “manipulative” way Cohen’s Borat pushed real, everyday people into revealing their servility, bigotry, and foolishness is not going to like Brüno’s button-pushing any better. Anybody offended by the potty humor and near pornographic explicitness of South Park will leave the theater shaking his head in disbelief that this movie received only an “R” rating.
But, as I’ve said before, Cohen works in the tradition of Menippus, Swift, Twain, and Lenny Bruce, whose diatribes against the inhumanity, stupidity, and obscenity of their respective cultures were (and still are) accused of being misanthropic, insane, and dirty.
At least one critic has accused the movie of being disjointed, but I felt that Brüno was structurally and thematically more coherent than Borat. The film follows many of the predictable conventions of modern romantic comedy—Boy ventures out in search of love and personal advancement, ultimately finding them in an unexpected place.
And unlike another summer comedy, like, say, The Hangover—which I enjoyed very much, without once laughing out loud or caring one instant for the characters’ bizarre and increasingly outlandish escapades—I laughed quite a bit during Brüno and was strangely moved by its climax (at an already infamous mixed martial arts spectacular in Arkansas), at which insight comes to our protagonist in the midst of one of the most vicious mob scenes ever committed to film (and it’s real).
The comedy is weakest when it depends on pratfalls and buffoonery, for example, Brüno’s mishaps in a Velcro suit. The best laughs come with a good bit of cringing. And I probably flinched six times for every time I laughed. I’m not sure which gives face muscles the more exercise, cackling or wincing, but my cheeks were sore as I left the cinema (fill in your own butt pun here).
Ha, I just said “fill in your own butt”!
My recommendation? See it if you think you’re up for it. Don’t, if your idea of funny is “nice”—no doubt Patrick Dempsey and Calista Flockhart should be coming out with something really sweet and cute any day now. Brüno is anything (and everything) but “nice.”
Posted by Joe at 3:45 PM