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Bruno is Mostly Astonishing with a Sprinkle of Belly Laughs

Directed by Larry Charles
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Don Mazer, and Jeff Schaffer based on a story by Cohen, Hines, Mazer, and Peter Baynham
Universal, 2009

I’ve heard a lot of dissection in the past couple of weeks concerning Sacha Baron Cohen’s “intent” in making movies like Borat and Bruno: is he exposing America’s prejudices, is he exploiting them, is he a master marketer of himself?  I think Cohen, like most comedians, really just wants to get the laugh.  His methods are ballsy and to the tune of outrageous, and in the process he does shed some light on our awful hangups.  Many of the targets are much too easy; some of them are incredible to the point of, “Did he really just talk to a terrorist from Al-Aqsa?”

Bruno (Cohen), a flamboyantly gay wannabe male model, is looking to be extremely famous.  He soon figures out simply acting the part isn’t getting him there, so he tries everything: starting as an extra on Medium (a funny bit of ironic amateur acting on Cohen’s part), trying to get a hilariously inappropriate interview show off the ground, taking on world causes, adopting a black kid, to finally, the crux of his adventure: trying to convert himself to being straight.  Trying to help him with all this is his extremely devoted assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten).

So there’s the bare-bones plot, which provides Bruno with ample opportunities to make people uncomfortable and downright angry.  During the stretch where he’s looking for a Darfur-esque cause to champion, he somehow gets Israelis and Palestinians in the same room, one pair he gets to agree that “hummus” is good (after confusing hummus and Hamas), and with another pair he gets the two opposing sides singing a peace song while touching hands.  When he adopts a black child, he always finds a way (via photoshop) to put him in situations that are inappropriate and downright wrong; one section has him interviewing parents who want to put their kids in showbusiness and asking them if their kids would be opposed to “liposuction” or “lit phosphorus,” with parents barely batting an eye and willing to do anything to get their kid the job.

It’s where he gets into the “becoming straight” section that the movie probably has it’s best moments, but of course at the expense of exposing rednecks for what they are, and perhaps making the entire South look like these groups.  Whenever the extreme redneck is exposed, I’m conflicted.  I laugh, because of how ignorant they are…but then I also realize that much of these people were raised a certain way and are unable to tolerate things that they’ve shielded themselves from, and it’s kind of sad…and exploitative.  It unwittingly paints a picture of a section of the country, when there is ignorance everywhere.  The climax of the film takes place at a cage match, where things go to over-the-top unexpected for the spectators.  While we watch toothless, fat, dirty people scream at the cage, most of us will probably think, “Oh, look at the rednecks!  They can’t handle it!” but I wonder if Cohen had staged a fighting event in New York City and did the same thing, whether the New Yorkers wouldn’t react in much the same way.  Hell, you could probably do the same thing in Europe or any so-called enlightened place, and you’d find outrage at what Bruno does in the cage match in Arkansas.  You probably just wouldn’t have people who are so easy to ridicule.

That said, the outrage of this movie, the sheer ballsiness of the comedy bits, is worth watching for some hilarious moments.  It’s not as consistently funny as Borat but it probably has louder laughs in certain sections.  I also had a problem with wondering what was staged and what wasn’t, Cohen’s final gag on the audience, but overall the question is, “Is it funny?”  Yes it is.  Just be prepared to see stuff that is really, really wrong.

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