Monday, July 20, 2009

Movie Review: Brüno

The title of Sasha Baron Cohen's 2006 movie, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, at least indicated at a plotline carrying that movie. His latest outing, Brüno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt, points to just what the movie is: a series of skits designed to expose the homophobia in much of American culture. Along the way he also showcases parents willing to expose their toddlers to about anything in order to get them into show business; charity PR consultants who don't know the first thing about current world affairs; and celebrities who, when asked to sit on people, are more concerned with their image than with the 'chair people' they sit on. All this is not always done in the best of taste, but it is hilariously funny. Brüno may just be the funniest comedy since, well, Borat.

The movie also leaves you admiring Cohen's courage as you see him chased by an angry mob in Jerusalem, or thrown at with metal chairs while making out with another man in a pit fighter cage.

For me there are two main items where the movie falls short (apart from the minor issue of a missing plot): Cohen doesn't know when to finish a joke - some scenes carry on well beyond their punch line and thus lose much of their momentum. The other criticism that can be levelled at the movie is that Cohen went looking for homophobia where he would predictably find it: in the army, with redneck hunters and conservative Christian preachers. Borat gained much of its social relevance by exposing racism and antisemitism in average people. This type of more subtle observation is missing in Brüno.

Ahead of the movie's opening, the media made much of the fact that in their view, Brüno's antics did more to enforce gay stereotypes than to expose homophobia. Time magazine ran an article on how negative comments on Twitter by the gay community caused the ratings to fall dramatically within two days of the movie's opening in the US. Personally, I have heard very few negative comments by the gay community, and even Germany's usually übercritical Spiegel magazine carried an article that the gay & lesbian organisations in Europe had a generally favourable view of the movie.

Granted, there were a couple of clichés the movie could have done without - such as the various sex devices and gimmicks. However, given the hyperbole dished out by Cohen, I fail to see how people could take Brüno's antics as a real representation of a gay man. And if there are some people who do, well, quite frankly, then the joke is on them.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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