“Funkyzeit mit Brüno”
I don’t know why, but when sitting down to view Sacha Baron Cohen’s new faux documentary featuring one of his cast of doppelgangers Brüno, I started thinking how there was no way it could be more offensive than his last effort, Borat. Oh, was I wrong. I highly underestimated America’s hatred and fear of the homosexual population, forgetting that while many are intolerant to foreigners, that prejudice is just against one aspect, the gay community has many hurdles to overcome. Not only are they viewed as outsiders to supposed “true blood Americans”, but also treated unequally by religious factions, sports industry, and more. While I lauded praise on Cohen’s first attempt at uncovering the true underbelly of our country, it is tough to do the same here because the shock value of what he’s doing is no longer fresh. The social commentary is there if you can get past the offensiveness and the laughs are huge, but I can’t help thinking that I saw it all before.
Much like its predecessor, Brüno, (don’t forget that umlaut … even Universal got in on the game), begins in his native country to showcase the reasons behind his journey to the USA. After being shunned from the fashion community in Austria he decides to do what is the next logical step—live in LA and become a celebrity. It isn’t as easy as he expected, so after a failed try at acting and a missed opportunity to be a talk show host, he heads to the Middle East to weigh in on peacekeeping attempts. A Kenyan child later, Brüno finds himself back in America, now realizing that to be famous he must be straight. Oh the irony that John Travolta, Tom Cruise, and Kevin Spacey are the actors he looks upon to reach this epiphany—like they haven’t been accused of being gay themselves many times.
You will once again be surprised at some of the people he dupes into believing he is a real person, (poor Ron Paul), as well as not so shocked, (Paula Abdul anyone? How great is it watching her talk about humanitarianism while sitting on a Mexican acting like a chair?). Uncomfortable is an understatement when it comes to describing a viewing session of this film because you’d be comatose not to be even the slightest bit squeamish. Cohen is fearless in his activities and unfaltering in his accent—equal parts effeminate and German, (is there a difference?). To go into the Middle East and recruit former leaders of both Israel and Palestine to sing to and have hold hands is one thing, but to go to a current terrorist group leader and call Osama Bin Laden a “dirty wizard/homeless Santa Claus” and not expect to get backlash is a completely different thing. As for going hunting with three burly Southerners and entering their tents naked … well that’s just suicide.
I liked the jokes for the most part even if they were horribly insensitive. Calling Autism funny, Africa a country, etc. does elicit knee-jerk laughs, which turn into feelings of remorse before ultimately realizing that, yes, it was funny. Cohen goes way too far in many instances: a bike-powered dildo; talking penis; and asking a swinger, in the act of sex with someone else, to look into his eyes are just a few. For this reason, I cannot recommend the film to anyone … seriously, anyone. You never truly know how much someone can take and a film like Brüno not only tests that boundary but also surpasses it over and over again. How Larry Charles and Cohen convinced the ratings board not to slap an NC-17 on this thing is unfathomable.
What is by far the most incomprehensible thing, however, is the candid view on America that has been captured. It is not wrong to call Cohen a genius in his methods to manipulate people into thinking they are safe and among kindred spirits in moral ambiguity. Watching parents virtually sell their souls and children’s bodies for a quick cash grab is unbelievable. Not only do these adults willingly say yes to any question Brüno asks them, “Is your child okay with being photographed on a crucifix? How is your child with dead animals? Does your child like lit phosphorus?” but they oftentimes pause, think about what has been posed, and still agree. I hope that if these people’s neighbors watch the movie and see their faces, they will never let their child go over to play again. And then there are the priests who do “Jesus’ work” by converting gays into heterosexuals. The first pastor preaches what to do and not, but it is the second that astonishes with what he says. Speaking as “we” he basically admits to how he is gay himself, but has been living the lie by tolerating women, even though they are so uninspiring and annoying to him. The worst part of it all is that the people Cohen lambastes are real.
Much like Borat, I have no interest in ever watching this film again. However, that is not to the detriment of the work as social commentary … I just never want to have to sit through the darkness that is likely hiding beneath the surface of some of the people I know and love. The shock value dissipates as the film goes on and unfortunately wasn’t necessarily high to begin with. Television being inundated with reality garbage and exposing us to the morons out there we have generally been shielded from has desensitized us. Even watching Borat has desensitized us because the freshness is gone. But, while the film may not hold up as an entity unto itself; the questions it raises, the truth we want to so desperately believe doesn’t exist, come through with crystal clear clarity. Sacha Baron Cohen knows our secrets and exposes them. His vehicle for such truths may not be as conventional or enjoyable as some may want, but the message is there nonetheless. I think his Austrian may get the point across best, but it was his Kazakh who entertained more consistently.
Brüno 5/10 | ★ ★