Saturday, July 11, 2009

Brüno (***)

Directed by Larry Charles


I don't believe I've ever seen an R-rated film get away with as much as the film Brüno has just gotten away with. When you consider that this same director-star tandem had earlier collaborated on the equally-abrasive Borat in 2006, it's hard to walk into Brüno without at least some sense of the depravity you may be witnessing. Alas, they manage to somehow shock us once again, by creating a film that is equal parts exhibitionism with a social agenda and a work of bad taste that would have made Jon Waters proud.

Bruno (the mind behind it all: Sacha Baron Cohen) is a fantastically gay, Austrian fashionista who works for "the most important fashion TV station in all German-speaking countries--excluding Germany". His "in or out" judgments are usually a rather authoritative accommodation in the Austrian fashion world, and his ego is so massive that he even has an assistant for his assistant. Frequently equipped with extravagant clothing and a bleached anus, Bruno is the most extreme example of a fashion diva.

Things go horribly wrong when he shows up at a fashion show sporting his brand new outfit which is made entirely out of Velcro. In the middle of an interview, he begins getting stuck to all of the outfits, and the debacle ends with him spilled upon the catwalk, with more than 20 pieces of clothing attached to his body. After the incident, Bruno is blacklisted from all fashion shows, and soon fired from his position on television. What is Bruno to do? For him, the answer is simple: move to America and become a superstar celebrity.

Accompanied by his mousy assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), Bruno heads to Los Angeles and meets with agents and various others in hope of becoming famous. At first, he thinks his über-homoerotic television stylings will get him a show gig, but that is quickly dismissed. After that, Bruno attempts many different portals into the world of celebrity including adopting a black baby (he swaps it for an iPod), trying to solve a world crisis, and even ponders the possibility of maybe turning straight.

Sure, what makes Brüno so interesting is its utter fearlessness. Within twenty minutes, the audience is already put through certain gay sex acts you never thought were possible. The main question you usually have to ask yourself with a film like Brüno is this: is the shock there for purpose or for laughs? For Baron Cohen's sake, I hope its for the laughs, because I don't see what social message can be made from watching a man pour champaign out of his boyfriend's ass.

The film has been criticized for exploiting gay stereotypes, and I believe that's fair. I will say this though, I don't feel nearly as bad for the gay community as I do for the poor subjects who fall victims to Bruno's acts. As with Borat, part of the excitement is wondering whether or not they're in on the joke. Whether it's Paula Abdul refusing to eat sushi off of a naked Mexican man, or Ron Paul rejecting participation in a sex tape, it's usually more fun to watch Baren Cohen's plans become disintegrated as opposed to see someone who is a good sport.

In his two films, Baren Cohen has used very simplistic, foreign caricatures to take a long, probing finger and poke away at American sensibilities. In Borat, a sexist middle-Eastern man presented the bare truth of gun-toting, God-complexed red staters who confuse America with the city upon a hill. This time, Baren Cohen is going after pop culture, and the over-eager quests so many talentless people will go through in order to become famous. Baren Cohen presents rather shocking, occasionally obscene gay images in front of people, and their reactions display perfectly why something like Prop. 8 can exist in this day and age.

There are some serious issues with sexual repression in America, though I'm not sure Brüno is the answer that we need. Baron Cohen is a master of deviance, and the dangerous situations in which he places himself in for the sake of a laugh is rather alerting. I can understand why homosexual leaders are upset with the film, though it's hard not to laugh at some of the antics. Even the most conservative kinds of people will probably find themselves giggling from time to time.

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