Perhaps you've read some of the wildly mixed reviews for Bruno, but I assure you that a comedy like this one cannot be considered objectively. I understand that many people may not find Sacha Baron Cohen's super obnoxious and super gay Austrian fashion reporter very funny, but I'm certain that just as many people are like me and think that he's hilarious and that Cohen is a comic genius without peer. (Basically, you know if you'll enjoy this movie or not.)
Bruno is one of the funniest films I have seen in a long time. There's a scene in which Cohen mimes a long, involved, graphic oral sex scene with the supposed ghost of Rob Pilatus of Milli Vanilli fame - performed in front of a clueless psychic reader - that had me convulsing with laughter and made uncontrollable tears stream from my eyes. Make no mistake: almost everything in this movie is in bad taste.
As you probably know, Cohen and crew dupe people around the world into thinking that Bruno and his frequently offensive antics are real - he convinces Paula Abdul to use the back of a Mexican gardener as a chair; he traps former presidential candidate Ron Paul in a hotel room and tries to seduce the congressmen with a striptease; he convinces a talk-show audience that he adopted an African baby by swapping an iPod for it; etc. There are some questions, of course, about how many of the "victims" were in on the joke, but there are enough genuine reactions - enough "there's no way this could be fake" moments - that this particular controversy doesn't matter.
But that's not the only controversy to deal with here, of course.
You're probably aware that Bruno has been creating quite a bit of stir in the gay community. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, according to the Associated Press, declares that "the movie was a well-intentioned series of sketches - some hit the mark and some hit the gay community pretty hard and reinforce some damaging, hurtful stereotypes." Universal Pictures, which released the film, counters that the film "uses provocative comedy to powerfully shed light on the absurdity of many kinds of intolerance and ignorance, including homophobia."
So...which is it?
Could it be...neither?
The biggest question surrounding Bruno over the last few weeks is whether or not people will be laughing with us or at us. But I'm pretty sure you know that answer before going into the movie simply because Bruno doesn't reveal anything you're not already aware of. Some people don't like gays - Bruno's not breaking any new ground here. As to whether or not he reinforces hurtful stereotypes, it could be argued that Cohen's shtick is so over-the-top, so absurd, and so much the point of the entire movie that it's actually less damaging than more subtle, less noticeable forms of cinematic stereotyping and homophobia - the one-dimensional gay sidekick that's nothing more than a series of witty quips; the casual use of the word "fag" in teen comedies; etc.
Would I go as far to agree with Universal to say that the film is a tool to deal with important social issues and that Cohen's intentions were "pure?" No fucking way.
Cohen is a comedian, a provocateur, and he's after big laughs, and he will do anything to get them. As you may know, I am the type of person to shock rather than be shocked, but I can honestly say that I was floored by how far Cohen goes in this movie. The graphic sex scenes (partially blurred out to preserve an "R" rating), involving dildos, a champagne bottle, and a brazenly aggressive swingers-party dominatrix, made even my jaw drop.
And it's hard not to admire Cohen's apparent fearlessness: he travels to the Middle East to organize peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives, only to fall into a ridiculous discussion about "hummus" rather than "Hamas"; he interviews a purported Arab terrorist and tells him Osama bin Laden "looks like a dirty wizard or a homeless Santa Claus"; he swishes his way around a military boot camp; and, in the film's climax, he has a hot make-out session with another man in front of a venue full of angry straight people who thought they were there to see a cage match.
The film, like Cohen's similarly staged Borat, is primarily a comedy of manners more than anything else. Neither movie (no matter what the studios claim) is intended to be a political statement about homophobia or, in the case of Borat, xenophobia - politics just happen to be the (unfortunate?) byproduct of Cohen's exercises in exploding pedestrian social mores. How much will people tolerate behavior that deviates from perceived norms? How will people react in situations that you could never imagine in your sickest dreams? The fact that Borat is a "foreigner" and that Bruno is a homosexual is a gimmick, a comedian's device to get from point A (set-up) to point B (punchline).
Sorry, gay community, Bruno does not reveal hidden, surprising, intolerant depths in the heart of straight people, and the movie does nothing to advance the LGBT movement. But, sorry, religious right, it doesn't set gay America back years either.
[Okay, dear readers, you've already chimed into about Bruno in a previous Bilerico post, but what do you think now that you've seen the movie? Bruno: in oder aus?]
[Cross-posted on Bamboo Nation.]