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Movie Review: Bruno

July 10, 2009

brunonewposter_l_3If there is one thing that this movie establishes, it’s that Sacha Baron Cohen has balls.  Throughout the film, you will be bombarded by this fact visually, (no shortage of full frontal on Mr. Cohen’s behalf) and by the sheer audacity of many of his skits.  I am truly amazed that he made it through this movie physically unscathed, as he practically begs for a good old fashioned beat-down on more than one occasion.

Thankfully, he did indeed make it through the filming, and offers up one of the most baffling, offensive, ribald and funniest movies I have ever seen.  I still don’t quite know what to make of it.  This movie doesn’t really boast much of plot, it unfolds as a series of sketches about Cohen’s alter ego Bruno, who is a flamboyant Austrian television personality.  After getting banished from his beloved world of fashion, he embarks on a quest to become famous in America.  Flanked by a faithful assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) he offends a myriad of people during his travels.  Gays, blacks, homophobes, focus-groups and in one case, an actual terrorist are all cycled  through Cohen’s scripted shenanigans.

He sashays through a Hasidic Jewish community in short-shorts, encounters hate miser Fred Phelps while dressed in bondage leather and chained to another man, makes sexual advances on a group of redneck hunters, and incites a riot during an Ultimate Fighting competition in Arkansas.  Cohen and his crew also  risked their lives in the Middle East in an unprotected zone between Palestine and Israel, all to deliver this comedy.  Clearly, the man is passionate about his art if he goes to such extreme measures, but the problem is that I can’t quite figure out what  message he is trying to convey to the audience.

Clearly the issues he  satirizes in this movie are homophobia and celebrity/fame worship.  In my opinion, he did quite well with latter.  In his quest for fame, Bruno adopts a baby from Africa, and totes it around like some other celebrities who shall remain nameless.   He has a casting call for other babies to be photographed in a series of  grotesque scenarios with his son.  The stage parents are so determined to get their child the job that they eagerly consent to alarming conditions,  including riding at a high speed without a car seat (yep, that’s fine), exposure to toxic chemicals, crash diets, and liposuction. It was truly horrifying, and elicited gasps from the audience instead of chuckles. That one scene captured the desperation people have to be famous with chilling precision.

I’m a bit more divided on the way Cohen handles homophobia, because he really seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth.  He is on one hand pointing out the hypocrisy of our society, but on the other hand he has Bruno constantly partaking in some of the most deviant sexual acts I’ve ever seen on film. Bruno is a walking embodiment of the worst gay stereotype that could ever be imagined.  If the film’s underlying goal is to laugh at homophobes, then why confirm their false suspicions with the ridiculous behavior of Bruno?    I worry that the whole approach will backfire and promote more misunderstanding and hatred.  I will be very curious to see what the Gay and Lesbian community will have to say about this movie.

Cohen is most effective when he allows people to hang themselves with their own rope, and too often he appeared  to baiting the people into the reactions he wanted.  During the hunting scene, he makes repeated attempts to rile the men up by making sexual advances toward them.  A self defense teacher showed remarkable restraint when Cohen attacks him with 3 dildos simultaneously.  An attempt to rattle Ron Paul also felt forced.

Director Larry Charles also directed Bill Maher’s Religulous (2008) and there are some similarities in the structure and execution of the movies.  I think this would have been a better movie if it would have exercised some of the same restraint that Religulous did.

By somehow getting an “R” rating, this movie also skewers the antiquated MPAA rating system.  Everyone I spoke to after the screening was flabbergasted.  If you have kids under 17 leave them at home.   I will be very surprised if there is not some fallout concerning the rating.  Bruno makes The Hangover look like The Sound of Music.

I do have a new respect for Sacha Boran Cohen.  I have never seen anyone become a character so completely.  He has been playing Bruno for well over a year.  Say what you will about Sacha,  but he knows how to get people talking, and he commits 100% to his craft.

Frothygirlz rating (as a social satire) 7

Frothygirlz rating (as a flat out comedy) 9

Final rating  8/10


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