Jul 14, 2009


I laughed much more with Borat, perhaps because it was the shock of the new, but also because Borat is a sweet boor, whereas Brüno is a clueless vapid idiot. He is Teutonic. Heavy.
The movie follows the same formula as Borat, except it feels a little more tightly constructed. That is, it's on a steady escalation of comedic horror. In Borat I laughed liberally (I almost cried, my tummy hurt from laughing); here the laughter stuck in my throat. As it sometimes happens to me with Curb your Enthusiasm, I found the comedy much funnier in retrospect. One is too appalled to laugh in the moment, but then it tickles your funny bone a day later. In fact, I'm still gaping in amazement at some of the stunts. Brüno is bitter funny, and much more satirically funny than it is silly funny.
This is funny with a vengeance.
Sasha Baron Cohen's aims are clear. He makes fun of three major themes. The vapid idiocy of fashion; the vapid, dangerously idiotic hunger for celebrity; and the idiotic homophobic obsession. If he can factor in some outrageous anti-pc stuff, why not?

(MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! I think you can read this and it won't affect your enjoyment, but if you really want to be surprised, you may want to stop here. See the movie and then come back to this page).

Critics say that Baron Cohen picks easy targets, which is true, but really, most of them deserve to be made fun of and in Brüno he is careful to pick not so easy targets. Everything is extremely heavy handed, but I found the bit with Ron Paul to be the only one that was unfair. To his credit, he offsets the easiness of the targets by putting himself on the line of danger like no comedian ever has. Hell, picking an actual terrorist leader from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade is not exactly an easy target. And the humor stings with brilliant irony. Brüno asks this guy to kidnap him because he wants to become famous. The terrorist is appalled. He says he doesn't like this. But the other kind of kidnapping and terror are okay? So if someone asks for a kidnapping, it's suddenly not kosher? What is terrorist kidnapping if not celebrity for terrorists? Way too smart.
In his search for fame, Brüno goes to the Middle East, or as he calls it, Middle Earth, to try to broker peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. At one point as he sits between one Israeli ex-Mossad agent and a Palestinian leader, he says he doesn't have all day and would the Egyptians please give the Jews their pyramids back. He confuses Hamas with Hummus. He sashays around an ultra-orthodox part of Jerusalem wearing Hassidic cut offs (all the costumes are hilarious), and almost starts a riot against him. By the same token, he sits in the middle of an Arab café making goo goo eyes at a very macho, mustachioed Arab. Equal opportunity mayhem.
Baron Cohen is a master of metaphor. Using Mexican laborers as furniture in California is devastating shorthand for the commonplace and hypocritical abuse of the illegal workforce in this country. As he sits on top of a Mexican he has devised as a human bench, and has Paula Abdul sit on top of another, he interviews her about her humanitarian concerns. And she answers!
Sasha Baron Cohen is utilizing comedy as it was intended: to seriously upend the existing order, to unmask human folly. He has the mischief of a giant, out of control, Puck.
As for the homosexual part, well, people are grossed out about sex between men, so he proceeds to show absolutely everything that is possible for two men to do with their anal orifices as a total slapstick routine. It is outrageous, but by putting it, so to speak, on the table, he is divesting it of its powerful mystique. Not only that, I think he is making fun of what straight people think that gay people do all day, which is to have orgiastic sex at all times. There is a fantastic bit where he goes to see a medium and asks about his former lover Mili, "von Mili und Vanilli", who he hopes is "on the VIP section in Heaven". The charlatan he consults tells him Mili is in a place with green trees so Brüno asks if he can kiss Mili and he proceeds to mime, with the precision of Marcel Marceau, an entire and very inventive sexual act between males that includes everything that you can possibly imagine, and if you didn't know about it, you will learn. But what is he really making fun of? Gay sex, or the conman who makes money by telling people he's talking to the dead?
It would have been fun if he interacted with some actual gay people, but by this omission, and instead by going hunting with deep woods rednecks and showing gay converters (clergymen who will cure your gayness), he makes the point much more powerfully. Think of anybody gay you know and they are the model of urbanity and good citizenship, compared to these appalling people. We are clearly hating the wrong side.
With Baron Cohen everything has to be a piece de resistance. In Borat it was his naked wrestling sequence. Here he ups the ante so that almost every sequence feels like that, but there is one sequence in an extreme fighting arena which is as gutsy and righteous as when Borat goes to the rodeo and speaks of Bush. Baron Cohen likes to whip rednecks into a frenzy with their own passionately held convictions and then yank the rug from right under them. And so he does this time, again in a marvel of concentrated metaphor. Protected yet separated by a cage, he starts a fight with his ex-lover Lutz which ends with them actually French kissing and making love in front of a frenzied crowd of homophobes, who start hurling abuse and beers and chairs at the cage.
I can't think of a more suitable image for the absurdity and the ferocity of gay hatred in this country.

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