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Brüno (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 15, 2023



BRÜNO (2009)

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Alice Evans, Trishelle Cannatella, Sandra Seeling, Ben Youcef, Alexander von Roon, Candice Cunningham, Tom Yi, Paula Abdul, Harrison Ford, Richard Bey, Ron Paul, Bono, Sting, Slash, Elton John, Snoop Dogg and Chris Martin.

Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer and Jeff Schaffer.

Directed by Larry Charles.

Distributed by Universal Pictures.  88 minutes.  Rated R.

I will give Sacha Baron Cohen this – the man is absolutely fearless and outrageous.

I just wish I could say I found him to be him funnier than I do.

In fact, his latest movie Brüno is a stunning disappointment.  I only went into it with lukewarm hopes, and yet I was still bitterly let down.

Not to say it didn’t have any comic moments.  It did.  Some of them were very funny.  But you sure had to slog through a whole lot of shit to get to them.

Brüno is rather mean-spirited.  It is actively offensive both towards homosexuals and homophobes, towards conservatives and liberals – which is quite a trick.

Baron Cohen specializes in a guerrilla comedy style.  He takes on a broad, outrageous, stereotyped “character” and wades into real-life activity, acting provocatively (usually offensively) trying to get the goat of common people and B-celebrities so that he can make a fool of them or show them up as small-minded.

Three years ago, Baron Cohen rode this style to huge success – portraying a delusional third world journalist making a documentary on US life in the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

I was never the biggest fan of Borat, but I appreciated its outrageous world view.  Compared to Brüno, though, it is a masterpiece.

Like Borat, Brüno is based on a sketch character from Baron Cohen’s popular comedy HBO series Da Ali G Show.  (He also did a long-forgotten 2002 movie based on the main character of that series, Ali G In Da House.)

Brüno is a shallow, vain, fame-obsessed, gay model.  I say he is gay, but actually he is not so much gay as a stereotype of a homosexual man.  Brüno is not a normal homosexual man; he is the mincing, swishing, preening epitome of every negative fear small-minded or homophobic people most revile.  This is not how gay people act – it’s how rednecks fear that they will behave.

Baron Cohen takes his gay minstrel show on the road and plops him into situations where he will outrage and shock people.

Like I said, he has guts, several times only the camera stands in the way of him being gay bashed.

Now we’ll overlook for a moment the fact that he’s basically doing a jaded new-millennium version of the old Candid Camera shtick.  We’ll also overlook the fact that in Brüno he is often actively goading the people into acting prejudiced – more than one person who is ambushed by the character is being reasonable until this strange man pushes them into the dark side.  For example, three redneck hunters who allow Brüno to come on a hunting trip with them are more patient with the guy than he deserves, as is another guy who acts as his guide at a swing party.  Then there is a martial arts trainer who is just trying to do his job, Brüno is bringing the anti-gay sentiment into the situation.

Added to the Borat formula are more B-celebrities.  In Borat, the guy obsessively stalked Pam Anderson.  Here he tries to ambush an interview with Harrison Ford (probably staged), does an interview with Paula Abdul in which they both sit on Mexican migrant workers (she now claims she was in on the joke – but she probably wasn’t), plays an annoying extra on the TV series Medium (probably not staged), appears on the sub-Springer Richard Bay Show (Bay may have been in on it, but I doubt the audience was), he makes a blatant pass on former GOP Presidential candidate Ron Paul (definitely in the dark) and does an insipid “charity” music video with Bono, Sting, Slash, Elton John, Snoop Dogg and Chris Martin of Coldplay.

There is a sense of smugness about Brüno which is hard to swallow.  (Pause to allow Brüno to make an off-color “swallow” joke.) Baron Cohen seems to think that he is being outrageous and colorful, but really he is being divisive and judgmental.  It’s like he is constantly winking at the camera, daring the audience not to be repulsed.  If you are offended by this you must not be hip enough to get it.

However, is it really fair to reduce the gay community to a broad right-winger’s nightmare?  Or is it fair to blame people who react poorly when he lives down to their worst gay fears?

All of this, I suppose, may have been forgivable if these generalities were used in the context of a shallow comedy to elicit belly laughs.

Problem is, Baron Cohen seems to think that he is making some kind of significant social statement for tolerance – which is much more delusional than anything done or muttered by his lead character.

More importantly, the laughs are just way too sporadic to recommend Brüno even as a tasteless yuk-fest.

Somebody has to sit Baron Cohen down and explain the difference between funniness and outrageousness.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: July 10, 2009.


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