Brüno is a difficult movie, to put it lightly. It is frequently very funny, but overall it’s not very good – neither in story nor in message.
Perhaps, given my position as an internationally renowned homosexual fashionista, this movie hits closer to the bone than Borat ever could have hoped, but it simply doesn’t work as well. There are only so many Teutonic variations on “arsehole” you can say before you realise you’ve got to make an actual movie. Brüno is not that movie, because it never gets past that point.
Brüno is a fashion reporter who gets kicked out of Austria for ruining a fashion show with his Velcro suit. He decides to become a celebrity in LA, first by attempting a celebrity interview show, then by making a sex tape, and so forth. That’s all there is to it: a loosely connected variety of scenes that don’t tell a very good story or shine much light on anything.
What could have been an examination of celebrity culture or anything, really, is reduced to 81 minutes of gross-out comedy and not much else besides. It doesn’t really reveal the inbuilt prejudices of the people of any nation; this time around it’s more accurate to say that Sacha Baron Cohen has baited people into reacting poorly to overt displays of unrealistic homosexuality.
Most of the time Brüno doesn’t bother to directly tackle the sexuality of the character, and instead focuses on his incredible vanity: his plans to solve the crisis in “Middle Earth” involve funny misunderstandings, bizarre hand motions and an hilarious song – but they simply feel like skits.
It’s difficult to reconcile his proposed baby fashion shoot with anything in particular, excepting that it shows how far some parents are willing to push their babies for the sake of fame and fortune. Undoubtedly Cohen would have shot interviews with people rightly horrified by his proposals, but I suppose that this would not have made for good cinema (not that the end product did either). A woman would honestly allow her child to pose as a Nazi officer wheeling a Jewish baby into an oven? I think it was even shot in New York – they have a Holocaust Museum there! As with Brüno himself, these people aren’t representative: they’re just gross caricatures even if that’s how they really are.
The film eventually descends into Brüno making Southern people feel uncomfortable around him, eventually threatening violence against Brüno and the camera crew. That none of them seem to realise that he’s not a real person is a worry for multiple reasons: the first is that he is credible to his subjects; the second that a lot of the movie really stretches credulity and the impression is given far more strongly here than in Borat that people are “in” on the joke – even if they aren’t.
Brüno’s character is so far divorced from reality that it should be impossible to equate him with homosexuality, and therefore it should have nothing to do with homophobia in the slightest, but to many of the people featured he is reality. The only vaguely realistic aspect of his character is his romance with his assistant’s assistant, which is for at least one moment as touching as can be expected of a movie that is about a man who goes around in skimpy clothing and provokes people into confirming their prejudices. Brüno isn’t much of a character, though – or at least he’s not used effectively – so it seems like it’s just something that happens to him.
It’s important to note that Brüno is inevitably going to be compared to Borat, but in this case it’s entirely the right thing to do, and it’s the connection that they want you to make. The tagline is “Borat is so 2006”, and both characters have their genesis in Da Ali G Show (street cred disclaimer: which I have never seen). Where Borat told a story – however thin – about a Kazakhstani trying to make a documentary while also trying to claim Pamela Anderson as his own, Brüno can’t stretch that far, feeling instead like “first I did zis, then I did zis”.
I’m never going to deny that Brüno is funny, because it is. It’s just not a very good example of movie making and I can’t recommend it. It ended up making me feel bad, and my friend likened it to “drinking too much beer and vomiting”. I get the impression it’s going to wash over a lot of people, they’ll just take the representation presented here as given, and forget about it, and then somehow internalise it. It’s all very ridiculous, but I don’t think anyone really learned anything here.
What makes me feel worst about this whole thing is that I feel like I’ve got a “blame the victim” mentality – especially in light of the planned original ending that was reshot due to it being a completely horrible idea – but I don’t know. I’d like to think that most gay people are smart enough not to try to sneak into the tent of an excessively macho hunter without any clothes on. I guess you can blame the victim when they’re making a movie that is basically about them deliberately provoking people to get a predicted response for laughs.
It’s a tough field, and I only know how I felt, and even that is vague: I felt bad about myself and I can’t even explain that. Perhaps because Brüno did expose real, institutionalised homophobia when he went to the gay converters (who didn’t even seem to like women, but rather viewed them as a necessity despite their intolerability), perhaps because I ran into someone from High School who said it was “some disturbing shit”, thereby embodying my impression of a wider audience. It might not be anything specific, but rather a vibe.
At any rate, Brüno does not come close to being the reason I go to the movies and, despite the laughter, that’s all I really need to say.