Bruno

How can it be so different… yet be EXACTLY THE SAME?
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2009
Director: 
Larry Charles
Starring: 
Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Various Rubes
The Setup: 
Sacha Baron Cohen returns as Bruno to visit America and embarrass people.
Discussion: 

When Borat came out I was a little disappointed, as I had hoped it would have more sequences in which he baited people into exposing their intolerance, and less filler in which he acts like an ass and nearby people are appalled. When it came out I was quite eager to see what he might do as Bruno, the Austrian gay fashionista, mostly because obviously gay issues and homophobia and suchlike are closer to home for me. Then years passed, my [and others’] interest diminished, and now, here comes Bruno. And it turns out to be exactly the same movie with the characters and situations switched out.

We open with Bruno, who supposedly hosts a fashion show in his native Austria, getting fired. He introduces his boyfriend, Diesel, a Malaysian who may or may not be underage, and they have a long sex scene, in which they stick a champagne bottle up their asses, Diesel rides an exercise bike modified to pump a dildo into Bruno’s ass, Bruno spins Diesel around on his dick… and many other things I wasn’t quick enough to write down. He then goes to a fashion show in his Velcro suit, as you see in the trailer… and yeah, what you see in the trailer is about it. So he decides to come to America and be a celebrity, which seems to him like it’s so easy to do here.

SPOILERS > > >
We see him ruining a shooting of the show Medium by overacting in his extra part. He claims to be putting together an interview show, so in trying to make a demo, he interviews Paula Abdul. He supposedly has no furniture, so he hires his Mexican pool cleaning-crew to get down and act as furniture, calling them “Mexican Chair People.” She sits on one for a few questions, but walks out when he brings out a man with food all over him as a buffet. What I found to be among the highlights of the movie is when he gets a former reality TV show star to viciously trash Jamie-Lynn Spears’ unborn baby, saying it’s retarded and should be aborted. Then he shows a preview of his “show,” which is filled with a lot of shots of his thrusting crotch, and finally his penis swinging around. Surprise, the sample viewers are appalled. Then he goes to a psychic, where he mimes having sex with a member of Milli Vanilli in front of the psychic, who looks the other way and waits patiently. He comes on to Ron Paul until the politician has to leave the room to get away from him. Paul does call him “queer,” but it’s part of saying something to the effect of “This guy is queer, he tried to have sex with me,” to his staff, which to me is different than outright calling someone a queer as a derogatory term.

The hands-down highlight of the film in terms of baiting people to say awful things occurs when Bruno claims to be auditioning infant actors for a photo shoot by interviewing their parents. Most of the parents seem to be trained to say their kid will do anything without thinking about it, and thus they heartily agree to have their infants pose with dead or dying animals, bees, wasps and hornets, antiquated heavy machinery, and lit phosphorous. He tells one mother than her child [who is two years of age, tops] may have to lose 10 pounds in a week. Can he do that—through liposuction, if necessary? No problem, the mother says. Would she have her infant pose as a Nazi guard pushing a Jewish baby into an oven? No problem. This is the best part of the movie, but it also goes on so long it starts to seem mean-spirited on Cohen’s part.

Blah, blah, he gets his baby—you saw it all in the preview—his baby gets taken away. He goes to a man who specializes in turning people away from homosexuality, who advises him not to play the clarinet, because it might remind him of sucking cock. He goes to a martial arts instructor, asking how to protect himself against gays. He enlists in the National Guard, were he enrages his commanders by misbehaving. He somehow convinces three poor Alabama hunters to take him out shooting, causing a long uncomfortable silence after he comments on how all the stars make him think about all the hot guys. That night he tries to get into the guys’ tents. The guys actually come off as reasonably patient and gentlemanly, until one of them finally forces them to turn off the camera—but we never see any violence or hear as much as an anti-gay epithet from them.

The climax of the film has him posing as a redneck wrestling promoter and organizing an event in Arkansas called Straight Dave’s Man-Slammin’ Maxout. He gets them to cheer for how awesome it is to be straight, then someone from the audience apparently calls him a fag. He makes the guy come into the cage with him—it turns out to be his assistant—and soon they start making out, and eventually remove each other’s shirts and play with each other’s nipples, etc. The movie closes with a parody of a charity single that Cohen somehow got Bono, Sting, Elton John, Slash and Snoop Dog to participate in… which is more confusing than anything, as you know these people are not dumb enough to just do any charity single.
< < < SPOILERS END

I certainly laughed at some points, and generally enjoyed the experience of watching the film, which doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s simultaneously a waste of time and money. There seems to be much more filler, in which Cohen is acting like an idiot in front of someone and making them uncomfortable. Cohen obviously has to dig deeper to dredge up rubes to fall for his schemes, and it kind of shows. Is it really that surprising that a rural martial arts instructor with three teeth might show some signs of homophobia? Or that three Alabama hunters aren’t very comfortable with a flamboyantly effeminate gay person sleeping with them? On the one hand, I don’t think Cohen has ever said that he is out to expose the world’s prejudices—that’s something that has come to be expected because it’s what he often does—but I don’t think he ever issued that as a mission statement, so it’s unfair to judge him has failing to live up to that. On the other hand, that’s the most interesting thing he does, and he did it a lot better on Da Ali G Show, when no one knew who he was.

Gay-wise, it’s difficult to say that this is an all-out win for gay rights [though again, I don’t think that was ever its stated intention]. Great, Bruno exposes the anti-gay attitudes of some people, but a lot of the humor plays on the audience’s pre-existing expectations of what gays are like. So when you see Bruno have an underage boyfriend, stick a champagne bottle up his ass, make jokes about sticking gerbils up his ass, and any number of the cock-obsessed outfits he wears or things he says, it’s only funny if you already think that gays are like that or regularly do those things. This would be one approach if the people in the audience were going to somehow become aware of their own attitudes, but there is nothing in the film that would tell them that not all gay people are like this, or even that Bruno is an extreme exaggeration. The joke may be on the audience, but if they never find that out, it’s just kind of a mean-spirited exercise.

And finally, for a film that is so ostensibly different, it’s rather amazing that this can be so much the exact same film as Borat. You’ve seen it already, but if you want more, go for it.

Should you watch it: 

It’s amusing to see with a laughing audience, but it’ll hold up perfectly fine on video.