Of the three characters from Baron Cohen's "Da Ali G Show" (Ali G, Borat, Bruno) Bruno was the least intriguing and the last one you'd expect to headline a coherent and hilarious feature length film. Following 2006's groundbreaking "Borat," "Bruno" is another part of Baron Cohen's revolution in line-crossing humor.
"Bruno" begins in Bruno's homeland of Austria. Bruno is Austria's most famous gay fashion reporter. Everything seems to be working out for him, he's got his own TV show and the perfect boyfriend. But after a fashion show fiasco involving a velcro suit, Bruno finds his whole career going down hill. He loses his show, his boyfriend, and his good reputation. So like any foreigner searching for the fortune he'll never find, he heads to the USA. His goal: to become "the most famous Austrian since Hitler."
Bruno's journey begins in Los Angeles, where he hopes to learn how to be famous from the famous themselves. He then travels the country doing anything possible to launch his way to stardom. Unlike "Borat," Baron Cohen doesn't stay in America. At one point, he heads to the Middle East where he manages to unite the Jews and the Muslims by making them all want to kill him.
"Bruno" got a lot of attention before its release, not just for Baron Cohen's ridiculous hijinks, but also because of the questions it raises. Does putting a flamboyantly gay stereotype in the most homophobic parts of the country bring an end to a cultural war or just reignite it? In a way, it does both. As Bruno, Baron Cohen tests people's tolerance levels, and the boundaries of their ignorance. His style is to make people feel as uncomfortable as possible, and once that level of awkwardness reaches a high, the people he interviews eventually show their true selves. And usually, their true personas are not pretty.
At times, Baron Cohen barely has to push people's buttons. Sometimes, all he has to do is say one small statement, and the interviewee goes off on a tirade. For example, when interviewing a few priests who run clinics to convert gays to heterosexuality, all he has to do is say his disdain for women and suddenly they spurt out a string of unintentionally hilarious sexist statements. In this scene, could he even be questioning the sexuality of these homophobic men as well?
Most times though, he has to push hard to really anger people. A scene involving male nudity with a bunch of Alabama hunters ends up becoming somewhat scary in the end.
Still, even though he is trying to reveal homophobia through this stereotype rather than promote it, one could see why "Bruno" might unintentionally cause homophobia. For example, during his foray in the army, his in-your-face gay antics are probably meant to challenge the army's Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy. In the end, while hilarious, he may just be furthering the myth of those negative gay stereotypes that caused the policy to be made in the first place.
The great thing about "Bruno" is that it's not merely an assault on homophobia, but an assault on American culture as a whole. Baron Cohen's main target is the view of fame in America. He goes through many humiliating trials just to become famous. Some of these include adopting an African baby he names O.J., and trying to find an important cause to support just to further his image. The best scene in the film comes as he goes to an agency to find a cause to support (some causes included global warming and Save Darfur), and finds that the people who support these causes know about as little about them as he does. It is this moment of satirical clarity where Baron Cohen's point in making the film becomes truly known. This amount of satirical clarity isn't reached at every point in the film, but when it does, we are exposed to nothing but pure and utter brilliance.
Of course, "Bruno" wouldn't exist without the brilliant minds behind it. One of those is director Larry Charles. Charles started his career on shows like "Seinfeld" and "Curb your Enthusiasm." He would later direct "Borat" and last year's "Religulous." In "Bruno," he furthers his guerilla documentary filmmaking style where he is also able to connect all of the events and create a real story. What is most brilliant about his style is that the film really is a mockumentary with a real documentary.
But the true visionary behind the film is Sacha Baron Cohen. His Cambridge-trained acting skills have gotten him far, and he absolutely refuses to break character, even in the most dire of situations. Yes, he did just walk naked into that redneck's tent and yes, he did just walk through an anti-gay rally. But he's doing it all in the name of art. Creating comedy out of real life situations is the new form of comedy, and he will always be the master of it. Perhaps this year the Academy will crown him this year with the acting nomination he never got for "Borat." He could deserve it not just for staying straight faced the whole time, but also for challenging some real emotional depth at times.
I don't think I could end this review without mentioning the true audacity that went into every frame of this movie. Some scenes are so shocking, you might wonder how they even made it into the theaters. A scene involving a failed TV pilot tests the squeamishness of both the focus group watching it, and the viewers viewing it in theaters. Some things Bruno does should never have landed in a movie, but then again the best films are made simply by pushing boundaries. A safe movie can be nice, but a daring one can be masterful.
No movie could ever live up to the hype as massive as that of "Bruno." So unfortunately, it doesn't quite live up to all the hype. However, "Bruno" is still a great movie that might not have disappointed so many people had it not had such high expectations to surpass.
There are definitely a few essential flaws in the film. One being that many of the scenes felt blatantly staged. The staged scenes were hilarious, but the film truly reaches its culmination when its capturing reality. Also, Bruno just isn't as funny a character as Borat is, although at times his behavior is just as shocking. Baron Cohen uses Bruno for the same reason he uses Borat: to reveal ignorance by using a character who is just as ignorant as the ignorant people he finds.
"Bruno"'s themes can be both timely and timeless. The quest for fame in America is something that will never die. However, the discussion it opens about homophobia in America could not be more timely, as gay rights were recently gained in some areas (Iowa) and suddenly taken away in others (California). Through its findings, "Bruno" exposes the utter ridiculousness of homophobia and hate as a whole. And in this, Baron Cohen draws the line between uncomfortableness and pure hate. Rep. Ron Paul felt as weird as anyone would when a stranger tries to make a sex tape with you, but that still isn't an excuse to run out and shout the word "queer" at the top of your lungs.
You really don't have to enter this level of discussion after seeing "Bruno." You can just see it as it truly is: a damn funny comedy that takes no shame in putting the joke on the audience and then getting a few giant gasps out of them as well.