Prince Gomolvilas

Love It or Hate It, "Bruno" Will Probably Be the Highest-Grossing "Gay" Movie of All Time; Plus, What Do YOU Think of "Bruno"?

Filed By Prince Gomolvilas | July 12, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Borat, Bruno, Milli Vanilli, Paula Abdul, Rob Pilatus, Ron Paul, Sacha Baron Cohen, Universal Pictures

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.

It's entertainment.

[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.]


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A lot of what I've seen of this film makes me cringe. All I've seen was funny. It also got me thinking about how some of the things that make me cringe are pretty funny....but I won't be rushing to the theatre to see this, I can wait 'til it it hits the 3 for $20 bins.

Ceartas, ha, you have a sick sense of humor too! :) But if you can, I encourage you to see this with a big weekend audience. It's really fun to hear people gasp and watch them laugh out of utter shock. I am by no means a prude, but even I was shocked by some of it.

A. J. Lopp | July 12, 2009 4:04 PM

In other words, the theatre audience might be a worthwhile part of the whole show --- good point for the DVD addicts among us.

Poking fun at people through humor has a long tradition. It helps people see themselves and their society in a new light. It can even facilitate societal and personal change. I've never seen anyone do this so bravely and more on-the-edge than Cohen/Bruno/Borat. It makes me squirm, cringe, laugh and opens my eyes. Just go see it and judge for yourself. I was with a bunch of gay friends, but the audience was mostly straight. I think we all enjoyed it, laughed and learned.

I'm really curious as to how this movie is playing to audiences outside of big cities. Anybody in small cities see this? What was the reaction? People walking out? I've heard that some people flee the theater!

"Bruno" will have a ways to go, to beat "The Birdcage," which is probably the biggest all-time grossing "gay" film. According to Box Office Mojo, "Birdcage" comes in at over $124 million domestic box office, and over $185 world-wide.

Ah, yes, I forgot about The Birdcage. It'll be a close call is my guess. I was anticipating Borat-like numbers--$124 million domestic/$264 million worldwide--but I'm beginning to feel that Bruno is even more polarizing than Borat, which will hurt its numbers.

By the way, Patricia, a friend of mine handed me a copy of The Front Runner recently and said, "You HAVE TO read this!" :)

I hope you enjoy "The Front Runner," and would enjoy hearing your feedback as a younger reader.

As to "Bruno", I have to agree with Leapinleopard -- box-office symptoms are hinting that it's not going to be a blockbuster.

And I agree with you that "Bruno" IS polarizing. And it's lacking that human factor that made "Birdcage" (for example) so appealing to both gays and non-gays for so many years, along with other films we could name, like "Brokeback Mountain." (It's a bit early yet to see where the overall box-office record of "Milk" will go.)

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 13, 2009 1:37 AM

I wonder if it will be a good as "La Cage Au Faux?" That was the basis for "Birdcage" and had a sequel.

gregorybrown | July 13, 2009 11:48 AM

I can't quite see THE BIRDCAGE as a gay film the way the original and wonderful CAGE AUX FOLLES was.I dislike the remake because it panders to Americans who won't read subtitles, or ignore an unfamiliar language to watch what's going on and get pleasure from that. And I have some personal reservations about the actors: a bit of Robin Williams goes a way long way, and Nathan Lane's persona always seems icky. The decision to shift the parental issue from homophobia to anti-semitism moves this even farther from being a gay movie. I think I'll skip BRUNO and hope for something that tries to accomplish the putative satirical purposes and actually works at the task out of some gay consciousness.

I think that you are unfortunately too young and clueless about gay history to understand the adverse effect that images like Bruno have in the American psyche. You must understand that you are enjoying a relatively safe and open life, because of the brave work done by the last recent generations of gay activists. If movies, TV, and advertising did not influence people, then there would not be any political ads, no products ads, no product placements in movies. Bruno will undoubtedly negatively influence alot of middle America, when it comes time to vote for or against our civil and human rights. Haven't you read the newspapers lately, and seen the trouble with bullying of gays in schools and the two kids driven to suicide, not to mention Lawrence King killed by a homophobic classmate in California? These all happened in gay friendly areas, supposedly. I guess if you personally experienced a bit of gay bashing yourself, or were politically involved in the gay rights movement, you would see that there is a big difference between seeing a film like Bruno in LA , DC, or NYC, and being gay in Texas, Florida, or places other than the artsy fartsy circles in which you circulate.

Hi, Drake, to assume that someone doesn't understand gay history and is not in any way involved in the gay rights movement just because he likes Bruno strikes me as at least a little bit naive. (Perhaps you don't really think that?)

As I pointed out in a previous post, I'm well-versed in trying to make sure the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act is taken seriously. On a state level, my educational theater piece, Outspoken, has been touring California middle and high schools since 2005 and has been actively keeping the dialogue open about homophobia among students, teachers, and parents. My elementary school play, Oskar and the Big Bully Battle, aims to educate students about issues of respect and peaceful conflict-resolution at a very early age--this project came about to deal with school bullying, cyber bullying, and the shocking instances of teen suicide in Northern California, and that is why I was brought on. Tens of thousands of students have been exposed to these issues because of these plays.

It's not that I'm not aware about the complex issues that are brought up when a film like "Bruno" is released. Fortunately, I do have the critical-thinking skills to consider the effects of Bruno from several different angles. I'm simply pointing out that Bruno will have both positive and negative effects on the public--all media do--but those effects will be minor. It's not going to be the disaster that GLAAD anticipates; and it's not going to break new political ground, as Universal seems to suggest.

One of the big questions about how audiences respond to this movie is whether or not they will be offended by Bruno's obnoxiousness or by his gayness. I wouldn't even attempt to say either way because it's a difficult thing to gauge, and I believe how they respond wholly depends on who they already are.

By the way, the "artsy fartsy" industry in which I travel happens to be comprised of a large number of people from the LGBT community, many of whom are very politically active and well-aware of the issues the community faces on a national level. If you don't believe me, then you've never been anywhere near a theater.

You should be ashamed for supporting Bruno out of one side of your mouth, and the California Student Safety etc...Act out of the other side of your mouth. in other words, you don't put your Money with student safetty, you put iy in Sacha B. Cohen's pocket for a cheap laugh at gay's expense for 83 minutes. Read the post ahead of yours on Bilerico about rural gays, and "Who will be the Bride at our Gay wedding? " Matthew Shephard was not in your artsy fartsy clique that feels secure at the shopping mall cinemas of Los Angeles. Your clique evidently feels that whatever will not put your group of pals at risk as you exit the cinema and head to your cars is thus good and safe for all gays in America. How narrow and self-centered is that? On the big questions of the movie, you say it remains to be seen how people will react. Why let your fellow gays who may be the ones bashed or killed be the fodder for your wait and see approach? Spend some time in Texas or Florida or Wyoming, or dozens of other states, and you will see just how much Bruno is helping gay rights. But I guess mall rats don't care.

For the commenters who are defending the rights of the gay community and claiming to promote respect and protection, is it really proper, then, to demonize and make blanket statements about "artsy fartsy" artists? And is it really proper to dehumanize a person by pejoratively calling them a "mall rat" without knowing if that's actually the case or not? Isn't making assumptions about people and lashing out at them without sufficient information the same kind of thing that irks us about bigots? And is one's apparent disdain for people who live in cities like Los Angeles actually an accurate critique of the residents of those cities or does it simply reveal one's knee-jerk reactions to certain elements of this world?

Hey, I'm all for important debate--that's why I cross-posted this Bruno entry here, rather than keeping it confined to my own blog where everybody tends to agree with me. But when you start to make it personal, it helps to know a little bit about the person you're making it personal about.

You know, just because someone doesn't agree with you, there's no reason to use Prince's age to dismiss what he thinks. That argument usually goes around in circles and has no end, generally because those age arguments have no basis in logic or reality.

You know, Alex, the most surprising thing about this thread is how I've discovered that being in your late 30s is the new "young." I'm usually complaining about "kids these days" and how they don't know how easy they have it, etc. I've now come to find out that, apparently, I'm one of those "kids these days." It must be my soft and smooth skin--it helps to bathe in goat's milk every morning.

Prince - Are you sure you haven't been using oil of delay and pearl cream? Isn't it one of our ancient Chinese secrets? LOL!

Ha ha ha ha ha! I'll have to look out for them the next time I'm in Chinatown! :)

Rick Sours | July 14, 2009 3:49 PM

Drake,

With the increase in hate crimes toward members
of the LGBT community, you have made some excellent
points.

isa kocher | July 12, 2009 11:38 PM

exploitation is immoral. entrapping ron paul and making him look stupid is stupid. it's like greasing the ramps for disabled people and laughing at them fall. nothing i've seen in the trailers would in any way tempt me into such a film. all it does is make me sad that people are so easily tricked and trapped into being their worst. showing people at their worst doesn't make anyone or anything better. it's cheap, cruel, demeaning. the worst people seen at their worst cannot compare to the ugly soul of anyone who only can see people at their ugliest. and bruno is certainly ugly. it's no different than dog fights or cock fights, or feeding christians to the lions.

leapinleopard | July 12, 2009 11:49 PM

Much like the first poster here, I will wait until it is in the $3 bin to see it, like I did the first piece of Borat crap. For those who haven't noticed, the film has already fallen off at the box office from its' Friday opening, when typically a film will pick up biz on the Saturday after opening. NOT a good sign. So, no, I don't think it will do anywhere near the business that Borat did, and for myriad reasons. Initial reports indicate that the (mostly) straight audiences who did see it were grossed out by the 'ick' factor, and screamed 'fag' at the screen repeatedly. Precisely the audience the film is intended to lampoon, but they utterly failed to realize it was their own attitudes being lampooned. Makes one wonder why they spent the $ to see it, doesn't it? Maybe they wanted to be grossed out, maybe they had genuine fun laughing AT the character instead of WITH him. Far be it from me to figure out what turns on heterosexual numbskulls. I stopped trying years ago.

I thought this hit the nail on the head for the most part, but I don't agree that Sacha Baron Cohen went into this solely to get laughs. I remember reading an interview with him years ago -- I think it was around the time Borat came out -- in which he specifically said he aimed to satirize anti-Semitism and racism. I wish I knew where the interview was, but I clearly remember him making that point.

In a lot of respects, a big difference between Bruno and Borat is that Bruno was as much a social experiment as a satire -- much more so than Borat, which was straight-up satire and comedy. The cage fighting scene at the end sort of reminded me of "The Third Wave" social experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Wave) or, more to the point, Borat's infamous "Throw the Jew Down the Well" song. I don't know if Cohen was consciously thinking that at the time, but he did show the amount of bestial hysteria to which bigotry can reduce people. Like The Third Wave and "Throw the Jew Down the Well," it was extremely disturbing, but also thought-provoking.

As for the film as a whole, I couldn't stop laughing. I grew up a fan of John Waters movies, Andy Kaufmann and the Dada movement, so I love bad taste and sick humor.

Hi, Alaric, thanks for the Third Wave link. Fascinating stuff.

I remember when I saw the "Throw the Jew Down the Well" segment I found it simultaneously disturbing, funny, bizarre, and distasteful. What justified the laughs, I suppose, was the segment's jaw-dropping ability to reveal ugliness.

Thanks, Isa, for your comments, but I do wonder if bringing out the worst in people actually makes them worse and harms others or if bringing out the worst in people exposes hidden beliefs that need to be exposed.

Does the problem actually lie in "tricking people" into being their worst? Or does the problem lie in how other people respond to seeing people getting tricked into being their worst? Some will certainly ridicule and judge harshly what they're seeing, but that's more a statement about the audience than provocateurs like Cohen.

That's my thinking: It brings out deep-seated bigotry that often goes unnoticed. Ron Paul has gone to great lengths to deny claims that he's a closet bigot, ever since Jamie Kirchick did an expose of all those racist comments in his newsletter. Now, we have him calling Cohen a "queer" twice in a row. Anybody would have been perturbed in that kind of situation, but it says a lot that Paul resorted to hate speech. It really knocked down the veneer of civility that often disguises bigotry.

If Bruno is a 'gay movie', does that mean that Borat was a 'Kazakh movie'?

Cohen is a one-trick pony, and that trick got old fast, even before Borat came out. It's not even about whether he's good for teh gay or not -- his humor is just not that interesting to me. I didn't make it through 5 minutes of Borat, and can't imagine spending a dime on Bruno.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 13, 2009 9:54 AM

Ok, a straight guy playing a gay guy for laughs. How original!

Other than that if he were doing it in "blackface" it would be a good old fashioned Mississippi River minstrel show. He would have rabid protesters for doing this.

What in the hell is wrong with Gay people playing Gay people? Oh, I guess we aren't as funny. This clown simply mocks all subjects he touches. I may buy a rip off copy for $2.00 confident that the crumb won't see a penny of it.

At least "Birdcage," "Victor-Victoria," "Priscilla..." "La Cage Au Faux" even, had a plot.

You shouldn't be mad that you were born gay. Even good people like Jesus make mistakes. That's what Bruno tries to show us- that gays are a mistake.

For those of you who don't know Mike, I should point out that he's employing satire here. But now that you know where he's coming from, feel free to verbally abuse him.

One thing I should add is that a big complaint that Brits have about Americans is that we lack a healthy sense of irony. The sheer number of responses I've seen on this and other blogs comparing Bruno to a minstrel show are pretty clear evidence of that.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 12:01 AM

When being Gay is the "Funny part," for heteros to laugh at, we are no better off than Black people were when stereotyped by "Amos & Andy."

You're like an older brother protecting me from these sharp-tongued devils. I feel like I'm in my cozy-cave.

I have one teensy little question, especially for everyone who's raining down on Prince's rather intelligent post: has everyone here actually seen the movie? I notice that a lot of people are getting away from the film itself, and devolving into a standard "You're wrong, you must hate gays, this film is homophobic" diatribe. But has everyone here actually seen the movie?

I think that's important to ask, given my own experience with Borat - I once got into a heated argument about it with a woman who was adamant that it was insulting and exploitative (I was defending it as satire, natch). As I pointed out to her at the end, the most interesting part of our discussion was that neither one of us had actually seen the film. That appears to be part of the Cohen brilliance - he incites argument even among those who haven't seen his work.

All of which is to say: I think it might be useful for the rest of us if those criticising Prince were to actually describe specific parts of the film to make their points.

Hi, Yasmin, one of the interesting things about this thread and all the arguments brought up here is that they very well might all be true. It may seem like a paradox to some, but it only goes to show most of us that it's a rather complex issue. Also, Cohen and company present so many different situations that one scene could be disgustingly homophobic, while the next scene is sharply satirical, while the next scene is both. Ultimately, where you land, I suppose, is if you think the film as a whole will incite the homophobes to think, "Yes, gays are like that! That's why I hate them!" or get them to think, "No, gays aren't like that! And that makes me question what I think gays are like." It also puts liberals on guard because it makes them question the limits of their tolerance.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2009 10:23 AM

And part of his publicity for the film was to dangle his butt in Eminem's homophobic face and to appear as a very prissy version of a British royal guard. Brilliant satire, I have not seen it, but when a copy comes my way that makes him no money I will view it.

Ho ho, I get the last laugh after all.

Thanks, Prince, for this and your post. And... that settles it: I'm definitely going to see this now! Anything that puts liberals on guard is okay by me. :-)

Yasmin, I'm curious--did you finally see Borat? And what did you think of it? Was it what you expected?

Prince,
No, I never did get around to seeing Borat - at the time, I lacked enough spare cash to see it in the theatre, and didn't get around to DVDing it either (I really should make a list). But I will now see both, and shall return here with a report!

Carl Hendrickson | July 13, 2009 3:13 PM

I saw Bruno in Redding, California this past weekend. Yes, Redding! I went alone to an evening screening while there on family business.

I can report that the theater was packed with date-nighters who yipped, woo-hoo’d and otherwise oh-yawed the films “satire”. They liked it and not for the reasons gay people do.

Having lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and now Seattle my husband and I have had a relative rarified life insulated from those homophobic. We are not naive however. Everyone processes media from their individual point of view.

My experience in the theater Saturday night confirms my prior notion that gay people are not the target audience for this film. Sadly the producers targeted the audience that will haul in the bucks, one that largely misses the satire and latches on the stereotypes which support their homophobia.

Some argue that the film’s producers were well intended satirists. I disagree. The producers did exactly what they intended to do, cleverly exploit gay stereotypes.

mixedqueer mixedqueer | July 13, 2009 6:08 PM

okay, i haven't seen this movie yet, but i have been following the "controversy" it has been stirring up.

i have to say, most of the comments condemning bruno seem to be taking a markedly assimilationist/CHAUVINIST tone. the complaint is that bruno represents all the "negative stereotypes" of gay men, i.e. his character is visible, flamboyant, sexual, kinky, effeminate, swishy, fabulous. he lisps, he isn't straight-acting, he acts as though being effeminately gay is nothing to be ashamed of.

i dare to ask, is the negative response from the LGBTQ community really just an uneasiness with femininity, alternative masculinity, and kinky sexuality? un-assimilable visibility?

gregorybrown | July 13, 2009 8:00 PM

That's a good observation, Mixed, and deserves additional exploration. I wonder how many potential viewers who don't fit "acceptable" modes of appearance and self-presentation are going to be willing to show up at a theater filled with strangers, though? An audience all yumphed up on giant sweet drinks and fatted popcorn is already something terrible to contemplate. Having identifiable sissyboys close to hand might be too much....too tempting...too threatening.

Hey, guys, some interesting points. I wonder how much Bruno's antics also point to America's unease with sex and sexuality in general.

Rick Sours | July 14, 2009 8:06 AM

As I read the responses, it appears this film is meant as satire which is using humor to point out individuals underlying homophobia.

Sadly, some people will only see the previews
for this film and will feel it is a reenforcement of
their negative views of the LGBT community.

mollyfromoz | July 20, 2009 9:42 AM

Bruno was a filthy, painful waste of time. I cannot believe I was stupid enough to not read a review about it first. It was 60 minutes of vile filth, abhorrently offensive, brainless: a waste of $17. If CHILD ABUSE offends you, if graphic HOMOSEXUAL PORNOGRAPHY offends you (just a straight porn would offend someone - no Im not homophobic) and If watching real COUPLES Have SEX and S&M scenes offends you(although some may be turned on by this), and RELIGIOUS VILIFICATION and RACISM offends you, then PLEASE DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. Little Britain was funny, Summer Heights High was funny, We Can Be Heroes is funny.... This is NOT. For me who has a high tolerance to "unique" movies, and I "get satire", in fact i love it. But I I found this INHUMANE and PUTRID. It was an ASSAULT to my senses, my ears and my eyes. To see a "Black Baby" by the name of "OJ", being crucified on a cross, and a penis that fills the screen. Shame on the musos at the end who supported the Cruelty, Ignorance and Hate in this movie. It is very sad that it relies on extreme antics BOYCOTT BRUNO.

I agree wholeheartedly and walked out before the film was even over.....disgusting.....and I am not homophobic.