“Borat” was a cultural phenomenon in 2006. Created by Sacha Baron Cohen and developed from his “Ali G” television show, the film was a broad, gross-out comedy that still managed to deliver eviscerating satire about American attitudes towards race, homosexuality, and other prejudices. Yes, you could have a man bring a bag of his own shit to the dinner table but if that table is in Alabama, then bringing over a black prostitute is right out. Even stranger, “Borat” had a sweet center where we realize the character isn’t hateful but just painfully ignorant and his quest across the nation is to win the heart of Pamela Anderson (who he then proceeds to put into a sack). Cohen has returned this summer as “Brüno” and while the gross-out gags still work, the film misses a major opportunity to expose American attitudes towards fame and homosexuality and instead just goes for the easy dick or gay joke.
After a disastrous appearance at fashion week by wearing an all-velcro suit, Austrian television show host Brüno decides he will find fame in America. From there, each attempt turns out more offending and simple-minded than the next. First, he’s an actor who can’t land gigs due to his lack of acting ability. Then he’s a journalist who can’t land interviews because he’s a nobody and only the most gullible of celebrities (Paula Abdul) would grant him an audience. Then there’s trying make a sex tape, attempting to solve the crisis in the Middle East, adopting a black baby, and then the film finally lands on Brüno realizing that in order to become famous, he has to become straight. The film then provides its most abrasive comedy as Brüno interviews pastors and ministers who say they can cure homosexuality and spends time with rednecks who cheer for “straight pride”.
But instead of hitting home the point about American attitudes towards homosexuality, “Brüno” just wants the gay joke without ever seriously confronting homosexuality. Naturally, it’s a comedy, so his character should be exaggerated. But Brüno isn’t offensive to people because he’s gay as much as it’s because he’s so hyper-sexualized. And even that’s not the problem. Americans have shown they can accept gays as long as we don’t have to see the act that would define them as gay (which is why “Brokeback Mountain” was such a firestorm of controversy despite hitting theatres only four years ago). It’s fine to have gays as the effeminate friend or as our interior decorator, but we don’t wish to see them kiss another dude. Brüno wants as much gay sex as it can possibly get away with and if something can be sexualized, it is.
However, this exaggerated stereotype lacks a soul. It never reverse engineers itself down to understanding out attitudes towards gays. The film never tests the limits of Cohen’s unsuspecting victims nor does it ask why hyper-sexualized heterosexual couplings are accepted and if there’s any limit we’ll accept when confronted with absolute kink of those relationships.
The film isn’t helped by Brüno being such a shallow jerk. There’s something sweet and misguided about Borat where he feels more like a rube than a malicious figure. Brüno’s “fame-at-all-costs” renders his journey repetitive and makes Cohen’s set-ups more obvious than ever. With Brüno as such a predictable and one-dimensional character, I found the film’s biggest laughs and most surprising moments came from those around him. Moments like Abdul sitting on Hispanic laborers as furniture or the absolutely horrific parents of child models/actors showing the lengths they’ll destroy their kids for a gig are what will stick with you after the film is over. There are some priceless reaction shots mixed in as well but even at a brisk eighty-eight minutes you start responding “Yep, folks are uncomfortable with you have gay sex right up in front of them. What else ya got?”
Despite revolving around a character whose only interests are fame and homosexuality, “Brüno” has very little to say about either and puts more work into the gross-out gag and uncomfortable situations than making a point. And if you found “Borat” funny, then “Brüno” will have you laughing throughout and laughing hard. I just wish it had just gone a step further and maybe tried to make its audience think rather than just letting us wonder how Cohen was going to dupe and offend another group of people.
Rating —– B minus