Brüno, the latest Sacha Baron Cohen mockumentary, is hilarious and worth seeing. It’s also, as the box office decline from Friday to Saturday to Sunday shows, operating under a law of diminishing returns. The loosely-organized plot about a foreign T.V. star seeking fame in the U.S., having a falling out with his traveling companion and eventually reconciling with him is too close in structure to Borat‘s to feel as revolutionary and, because the comparison is inevitable, suffers for it.
Nevertheless, Brüno does push comedic bounds in terms of both tolerance and taste. It seems perfectly constructed to alienate both ends of the hetero-homo spectrum. Brüno the character is more self-absorbed than Borat, less sympathetic, and, as a caricature of a flaming fashionista, definitely offensive. I like GLAAD’s even-handed response, which acknowledges that the filmmakers had good intentions:
We live in a world where far too many still mistreat and abuse gay people, deny us the ability to take care of the ones we love and exclude us from fully participating in the life of our communities. For a major studio film with a massive cultural footprint to pile even more stereotypes and discomfort onto an already hostile climate — despite what are inarguably the best of intentions — doesn’t make the work of changing and overcoming it any easier.
Should the gay community be off limits as a satirical target? No, of course not. But satire that works best takes on the powerful, not the oppressed. Apparently a Ben Affleck prank was cut. Maybe it wasn’t funny. I would’ve liked to see more celebrity pranks like the one on Paula Abdul (although I suspect she was in on the joke).
And I applaud the changing of the ending
Continue reading about Brüno (minor spoilers)…, which may have been the result of input from groups like GLAAD and early test audiences. In an original version, Brüno and Lutz are beaten by an angry mob and Brüno, in an ensuing press conference, affirms that he will marry Lutz, despite the brain damage Lutz endured as a result of the beating. The present ending, a celebrity sing-along where, for instance, Snoop Dogg calls Brüno “the white Obama” is funnier than the old one sounds. (Other changes include paring down sequences — apparently the focus group scene went on much longer in earlier versions of the films — and, like in Borat, entire cut scenes altogether.)
On Da Ali G Show, the HBO show in which Brüno was introduced, the early Brüno segments were more about exposing the desperate desire for attention of people in the fashion industry. These people were goaded into further and further debasing themselves for the cameras or into revealing their own superficial idiocies. Later segments, including one with some spring breaking wrestlers at Daytona beach, exposed the homophobia of the young American male with devastating effectiveness.
Neither of those strategies of humor are much in evidence in the Brüno movie. From the very beginning, which shows some graphic sexual acts, to the middle, with the talking penis (sure to be the movie’s lasting contribution to cinema), to an end sequence where hotel staff discovers Brüno post flagrante delicto, the intent is shock comedy rather than revelation of hypocrisy.
As a piece of puerile agit-prop though, Brüno is unmatched. I have to think that the relentless intent to cause offense is what may be causing Brüno‘s box office drops. The joke is, in some sense, on the audience. Not everyone wants to watch Universal Pictures’ big-budget version of “Two Girls, One Cup.”
It will be their loss. Whatever the intent of the filmmakers or the cultural impact, Brüno is a funny movie from beginning to end. It may not be as funny or loveable as its predecessor, but it further pushes the bounds of mainstream comedy in a way no one else is doing. (Compare the wild energy of Brüno to Bill Maher’s dud Religulous, also directed by Larry Charles.) For responsible viewing: Laugh first; later, analyze why you laughed.