The camera bulbs flash and the incessant club beat bangs. This is excitement; this is glamour; this is “Brüno”, the new film from the creative team of star Sasha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles, the people who brought you “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”. In “Borat”, Baron Cohen embodied a TV journalist from Kazakhstan transported to the USA to learn how just how the Americans make this thing we call life work so well. In “Brüno” , he is completely unrecognizable as a gay Austrian fashion television host who again travels to the United States, this time in hopes of finding international fame. And, just like in “Borat”, Brüno finds just as much ignorance and stupidity in his unsuspecting interview subjects. Unfortunately, he does not find as much scandal nor as much insight into human nature. Subsequently, the laughs are fewer to be found as well.
“Brüno” had incredible potential. At a time when the rights of gays and lesbians is at the forefront of debate in America and around the globe, “Brüno” could have exposed the harshness behind the opinions of those who fight hard to make sure that gay men and women continue to exist as second class citizens. On the other hand, “Brüno” also had the potential to fuel their fire by shoving an oversexualized stereotype in their faces. We could have scowled at the haters or laughed heartily at the gays. Both luckily and unluckily, “Brüno” musters neither reaction. It isn’t to say that Baron Cohen plays it safe; one could hardly say that when he makes out with another man in an Arkansas Ultimate Fighting challenge as the spectators hurl their beers and chairs over the cage that thankfully separates them. That said, we aren’t always laughing at Bruno; sometimes we are laughing at just how gay he is. Baron Cohen makes Bruno human, which makes his character’s direction forgivable, but the damage is done.
Personally, I didn’t find “Brüno” to be offensive but isn’t that supposed to be the game? This is not your ordinary gay guy at Starbucks serving you your grande soy vanilla latte (Yes, I’m talking about you.); this is an Austrian homosexual, who at one point is dressed in traditional African clothing taking a baby out of a box from the airport baggage claim. This is practically the definition of excess, a concept the gays are supposedly famous for. Yet, somehow it doesn’t seem to be shocking anyone at all. Sure, the psychic looked noticeably uncomfortable when Bruno pretended to give the dead guy from Milli Vanilli oral sex in front of him but I already knew that overt homosexuality made people feel uncomfortable. I wanted BRUNO to show me why they felt that way and that never happened. It often seemed like more of a commentary on celebrity and chasing fame, making the whole seem unfocused.
Off the top of my head, I cannot think of anything funnier than a singing penis head and “Brüno” has that and a whole lot more to keep you laughing. It lacks the depth of “Borat” though, a film that explored the American experience, from patriotism to religious obsession and homeless despair. “Brüno” feels less spontaneous, more orchestrated and exaggerated for comedic effect and little else. The visceral nature of Baron Cohen’s humour is what lends to his genius but his Bruno persona just feels like its been walked down the runway one time too many. Maybe no one would have cared if he played the gay guy at Starbucks but maybe in every day life, we might have caught a glimpse of what America can’t seem to get over when it comes to being gay. Instead, Bruno is so flighty that the film suffers the same fate.
Review by Joseph Bélanger