Well, this is an interesting time for Brüno to come out, even more interesting than my choice of phrase just now. A few weeks after Fort Worth’s gay community was sparked into outrage and activism, Sacha Baron Cohen’s newest performance-art comedy tries to do for homophobia what Borat did for anti-Semitism. For a movie that features Baron Cohen literally waving his penis in the viewer’s face, Brüno proves to be unexpectedly thought-provoking.
The character of Brüno is a man-crazy Austrian fashionista with a mop of blond hair and loads of tight-fitting leather outfits. He gets fired as the host of the TV show Funkyzeit mit Brüno in his homeland and dumped by his boyfriend. Determined to become a celebrity, he journeys to America with his worshipful personal assistant Lutz (played by Swedish actor Gustaf Hammarsten) in tow.
Most of the reviews have detailed Baron Cohen’s baiting of some eminently deserving gay-bashers. Brüno visits an “ex-gay” ministry in Alabama and tells the reverend he has “blow-job lips,” draws the ire of an African-American studio audience when appearing on a TV talk show (taped in Carrollton) with his adopted black baby, and incites a near-riot in Arkansas by staging an ultimate-fighting contest that turns into a makeout session between the wrestlers. This is relatively easy, but he accomplishes something more difficult when he exposes the double standard at a swingers’ sex party – it seems that swingers are far more welcoming of bisexual women than gay men.
Brüno has none of Borat’s guileless sweetness, but that just makes his stunts all the more daring, especially when he visits the Middle East, where he’s chased through the streets in Israel by enraged Orthodox Jews. Even tenser is his meeting with Ayman Abu Aita, described as a Palestinian terrorist leader, in which Brüno tries to get himself kidnapped by saying that Abu Aita’s “king” Osama Bin Laden “looks like a dirty wizard.” The terrorist is much more diplomatic about dismissing Brüno than most of the film’s other subjects.
For all this, sometimes you wonder who the joke’s really on. As much as Baron Cohen’s out to target people who hate gays, he’s equally willing to turn his ridicule on celebrity culture and overly tolerant subjects who let Brüno’s idiocy pass without comment. The early part of the film shows Brüno wreaking havoc at a Milan fashion show (by wearing a Velcro suit that sticks to everything) and visiting a Hollywood PR firm that matches celebrities with charity causes (the two women running the place are airheads who don’t know where Darfur is). All the humor involving dildos, ass cheeks, and anal bleaching is designed to test the comfort levels of straight liberals in the audience who pride themselves on their acceptance of gays. Many comedy films have loads of raunchy humor aimed at straight men. This film seems to ask, If we’re so enlightened as a society, where are the corresponding movies aimed at gay men?
Then again, trying to discern Baron Cohen’s satiric world-view may well be beside the point. He’s less of a revolutionary than he is a clown who’s willing to go further than most others in search of a laugh. In Brüno, he finds quite a few great big ones. We’re sure he’d enjoy that. l