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Brüno (2009) Print E-mail
Monday, 13 July 2009
ImageBorat is back. Except this time he's named Bruno, and he's flamboyantly homosexual. OK, so it's not really Borat, but rather yet another character from comic anarchist Sacha Baron Cohen. While his breakout film was Borat, the shocking and hilarious tale of a fictional Kazakhstan visitor to America, the character actually originated on Cohen's UK television show, Da Ali G Show. In fact, Baron Cohen had previously made a feature, Ali G Indahouse, that starred the titular gangsta wannabe. And Bruno was the other mainstay of that now cult classic show. An outrageous Austrian fashionista with no real depth, Bruno is as outlandish as Borat was innocent. But it's that minor difference that makes for a major change in the way the two movies feel.
A superstar in the European fashion world (including every German-speaking country...except Germany), Bruno has front row seats to every major fashion event. However, when a high concept suit made of velcro tosses Bruno onto a walkway in full view of dozens of celebrities (including Paul McCartney in a blink and you'll miss it cameo), he is ousted and even dumped by his tiny pygmy boyfriend. Determined to prove everyone that he still has what it takes, Bruno heads to Los Angeles, with dreams of finding fame and fortune. But he's soon going to learn that his special brand of hedonistic journalism isn't exactly what people are looking for. Let's get this out of the way up front: Bruno is hilarious. Baron Cohen has a talent for walking the fine line between provocatively hilarious and outright alienation. No other comedian could throw the kind of outrageous imagery at the screen without having the audience walk out in disgust. And believe me, Bruno is even more shocking than Borat, with multiple instances of anal penetration, a swingers party, and a talking penis. Bruno himself, acting as a journalist of sorts, is more in touch with current events than Borat, and this allows him to poke fun at a variety of unsuspecting targets. In particular, a scene where he quizzes two charity PR consultants comes off as inspired and biting (asking for the new "it" charity, Bruno says, "We've got Darfur, but what's our Darfive?"). The film also has more of a plot than Borat, as well as having more scripted sequences.
If there's any flaw in the film, it's in the character of Bruno himself. The genius of Borat is that he was a normal guy (or rather normal for the film's depiction of Kazakhstan), and so when he visited America, he provided a contrast between what is normal in his country and what is normal there. People accepted him out of a sense of attempted cultural understanding, which meant he could get away with a lot more. Furthermore, Borat had a sense of wide-eyed innocence that made him endearing to the audience. Bruno is not normal even in Austria, being a shockingly outre homosexual (and note I'm not saying that homosexuality is abnormal, but Bruno's particular brand of it is certainly outside the bounds of what general society considers normal). Because of this, he's much more in your face than Borat, and people are much quicker to cut off contact with him. Much of the humor of Borat came from people trying earnestly to accept Borat and his culture while also conforming him to theirs. Not much of that happens in Bruno, and when it does, Bruno is quick to turn it into another stunt, making it feel less organic than Borat.
I'm sure at this point some people are saying, "Enough with the comparisons! They're two different movies!" But Bruno invites such back and forth, employing many of the same tricks as Borat and even many of the same story beats. And while Borat was most assuredly Baron Cohen shouting "GOTCHA!" at America, it never felt like it. Bruno feels very much like the "GOTCHA!" that it is. That doesn't make it less funny, but it does make it less effective in the long run. There's no doubt about it, Bruno is hilarious and very much worth seeing for fans of Baron Cohen and Borat in particular, but it's also the last time this sort of approach will be effective. If Baron Cohen can't branch out in future projects, he's going to quickly find diminishing returns from his audience.

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