Laremy Legel July 10, 2009
I’ll admit that I laughed throughout Bruno; the movie deserves some credit for knowing where the line is … and then obliterating it. And if you measure effectiveness by the barometer of provoking reaction then you’d have to say Sacha Baron Cohen is dialed in — at least a dozen people walked out of the screening I attended. So perhaps this C- is slightly unfair, as it’s in the calm reflective period afterward that I’ve become concerned about what the film is, means, and supports.
My main issue is the style of humor. We’re meant to laugh at the brutal situations Baron Cohen’s Bruno puts people in, but there is little room for surprise once initial setup for each situation is revealed. Bruno is Baron Cohen’s flamboyant Austrian gay wannabe celeb, and as such he terrorizes everyone from Ron Paul to, well, actual terrorists. Most of Bruno’s time is spent directly skewering middle America; if you’re keeping track of the equation at home it’s a hetero British guy acting out as a gay Austrian while taking aim at the American south. Is it an attempt at satire? Certainly. Does it speak to a larger intolerance within our culture? Of course. But the main problem is that more often than not Bruno is simply unbearably awkward, the exact sort of person you wouldn’t want to be around, regardless of his sexuality. By playing it so many degrees past any semblance of reality Bruno doesn’t really allow any of the jarring truths to shine through. It’s like a bizarro Christopher Guest effort — because where Guest finds comedy in the one degree of difference from reality, Baron Cohen is off in space, mining for laughs in places no one has ever looked. Points for innovation, deductions for relatable comedy. The other comic that immediately comes to mind is Andy Kaufman. But Kaufman was rarely cruel to his unwitting accomplices; his comedy came from the place of his own scars. Baron Cohen’s Bruno has none of that, he’s always self-assured and in character, so we don’t really have a chance to empathize.
The madcap situations Bruno finds himself in adhere to the barest semblance of plot. Bruno needs a kid from Nairobi because Angelina did it. Bruno needs to make himself straight because John Travolta and Tom Cruise are (hardy har). The best scene comes with an unsuspecting Paula Abdul. Bruno doesn’t have furniture, so he gathers a few day laborers to make “Mexican people chairs.” Abdul is talking about her need to help people … while sitting on a person. This is the sort of thing that I loved, because it had nothing to do with Bruno, and everything to do with the hypocrisy of Hollywood. I would also be interested in some sort of Bruno documentary to learn what was staged, what was real, and how in the world they managed to find people who didn’t know what Sacha looked like, or that they were being had. Baron Cohen was on Letterman a few nights ago, as himself, mentioning how difficult it was to find an actual terrorist to harass as Bruno. Sadly, that five-minute story was more interesting than most of the film.
Lastly, I question the market this is being released in. We find ourselves presented with unprecedented financial and social issues, and in some weird way the Bruno film presents all the wrong ideas. It’s a movie to mock the huge character of Bruno, the crazy Austrian gay guy, and the ship of fools he hangs around with who continually buy his shtick. But it’s all too cheap and predictable. Of course wearing leather chaps outside is going to get you noticed — that speaks more to the culture’s hangups on sexuality as a whole than it does to who you’re partnering off with. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno seeks attention through idiotic means, only the laughs aren’t plentiful enough for comedy, the squirm factor is unnecessarily off the charts, and it’s not nearly smart enough to be considered effective satire. We’re left with a film that makes fun of the intolerant, only somehow you end up feeling a little pity for them too. Bruno crushes Alabama and Arkansas, but to what end? It’s easy, and it’s been done. The point seems to be sheer spectacle, but I’m not sure that has any value anymore, especially not after Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen desensitized a nation. Earlier this summer The Hangover was a solid escapist comedy. Sadly, Bruno doesn’t come close to that level, instead choosing to blur the line between stereotypes and comedy for very little gain.
Categories: ReviewsTags: Bruno, Movie reviews, Sacha baron cohen