There are so many things that could be said for this film, to support it, to defend it, and even to criticize or condemn it.And each comment could be correct, without being contradictory.
Let’s peel away the layers.
This film is hysterical.If you enjoy parody, uncomfortable humor, and Alan Funt if he lived and worked within today’s standards, you’ll enjoy Brüno.The premise for this film is somewhat distinct from Borat, though the formula is identical.European seeks fame and fortune in the United States, and goes through some bizarre hero’s journey in order to find himself, while trying to have sex with just about everything that gets within reach.
The film features plenty of funny moments and wildly hilarious escapades.But during a bondage scene in Brüno’s hotel, let’s call it a bondage situation gone awry, where the security is brought in to deal with matters, including a lost key that could separate our paired couple, Sacha Baron Cohen utters a line that will stay with me, thanks to the cutaway, for many, many months.Let’s just say that if you see this film, you’ll never think of the Dustin Hoffman film Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium the same way every again.Ever.
Cohen’s humor is not for everyone.Certainly not for Congressman Ron Paul, or even Paula Abdul, each of whom appears in the film, and are presented as distant shills for their causes.Brüno tries to seduce Paul, and it’s painful to watch, even as you just know what’s going to happen.
Adbul fares worse, which isn’t hard to understand, but the fact that she let the scene develop as it did, for as long as it went on, speaks volumes to her sense of reality, and how far people in Hollywood are willing to go to promote themselves, and to step on and over others to get where they want to be.Literally.
Lots has been written about how the gay community was anticipating this film, and now that it’s out, how it has been received.Questions were raised over whether it is insulting (yes), amusing (yes), embarrassing (yes), reflective (at times) and even revealing.People have to be comfortable with themselves in order to find comedy in what they do.Robin Williams for years has crossed over and found comedy gold in drag, with ethnic voices, and in many ways that go beyond his white hetero maleness.
Cohen’s Brüno works the same comedy mine, albeit a few feet over and in a much coarser vein.And we all know that going in.We know Brüno is a character.He has his schtick.His contrived Austrio-German words, his desire to be the second famous Austrian over the last century, his Nazi salute at US Army officers, his comebacks to a pastor steeped in the gay conversion gospel, all are sharp one-liners, stretched and nailed down successfully.
But what has not been discussed has been the way Hollywood comes across in this film.Two scenes stand out, and even with explanation, they hold up for an initial screening.The first scene follows a casting call for infants to appear in a scene with Brüno’s adopted Kenyan child, “O.J.” (and that’s a whole other story, and a whole other scene, and it’s similarly surprising to me that the NAACP or another legacy civil rights organization hasn’t sought to make something of this character and representation.)
In this scene Brüno sits with a bevy of stage-door parents willing to pimp their children to be on screen, regardless of whether they can operate heavy machinery, hang from a crucifix, lose 1/3 of their body weight in a week, or undergo liposuction.And the punch line, which has Cohen clearly pushing the envelope with some parents further than I suspect he anticipated, has Brüno delivering the good news to one parent……that her daughter has won the role, and will be cast as a uniformed Nazi transporting a Jewish child in a wheelbarrow to the ovens.Brüno asks the mother if this is alright with her.The mother says she is glad her daughter (this is a toddler, remember) has the job, and that she has no reservations.Can’t tell if this is comedy, as it’s frankly a sad, disturbing, and revealing moment, one of several unintended incidental benefits to this film.
The second scene is with a team of Hollywood image consultants, sisters who work to link actors with charities and causes.Their ignorance, stupidity, and gullibility are immediately transparent, and are significant problems given the work they claim to do and the causes they claim to represent.Brüno is able to hear from them that Darfur is in Iraq, that the time is now to get on the environmental bandwagon, as it may soon be too late (to get on the bandwagon, not for the environment).Brüno hears that he needs to find a cause in order to get famous, which may very well be the case.He seeks and finds one, but it’s the way the moment is framed that leaves a lasting impression that may be more negative than the images and moments with assorted lovers, ministers, agents, and fashion industry icons and reps.
To criticize Brüno is fair.It is outlandish humor, meant as much to offend and insult as to amuse.It goes right for the jugular equivalent of the funny bone, leaving little to doubt, and no safe place to laugh.Can this be funny?How can that be funny?Well, it all is, but not to everyone, of course.Like many things, comedy is in the mind of the beholder.But you have to be able to hold an exceedingly open mind to accept all in Brüno as funny, even if it is.
And to condemn Brüno is similarly plausible, though to do that would miss the point entirely.Hell, he even calls Mel Gibson ‘der Fuhrer’ without attempt at parody, and finds a way to warble with music icons from Elton John to Snoop Dogg, and many from bands in between (Sting, Bono, Chris Martin) for his closing music video.
There’s plenty to denigrate with this film.But even without a strong plot, and with hard turns into areas that typically are left for documentaries (gay conversion, bondage, sexual role playing, communicating with the dead), Brüno works if you can take your comedy hard and rough, and are willing to look past what could easily be seen as offensive by the person in the next cubicle.It’s a condemnation of us, at our extremes, which certainly does exist, as we have the video record to prove.