Brüno’s Blunt Brilliance
Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy is incisive. He picks at the underbelly of prevailing social norms and exaggerates them for comedic and sobering effect. Brüno is the only film I’ve seen of his in its entirety, and it’s a mixed bag of gags, performance stunts, and staged production. Like in Borat, the devastating trick is figuring out what’s staged and what’s real. And it’s not all that easy to do.
In Brüno, Cohen’s titular character is on a quest to become famous in America after a mistaken incident involving a velcro suit causes him to lose his fashion career. This is the framing narrative that plunges Brüno into a variety of get famous quick schemes. His various attempts at fame include a tv show pilot, a extra in NBC’s Medium, adopting a black baby from Africa, trying to create peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and revoking homosexuality to become straight like all the big movie stars (“Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kevin Spacey.”)
The film is at its strongest when exploring the treatment of homosexuality in society. His conversations with gay conversion pastors are hilarious, much like the movie end climax which I won’t spoil here. There is some ingenious commentary under all the shock comedy. My favorite movement is probably in terms of sounds design. Brüno enlists in the army (I guess praying the gay away wasn’t cutting it), and the sounds of marching and army chants is perfectly mixed with the thumping beats of Euro-dance music. It’s a perfect encapsulation of what part of the movie seeks to do: assert/reveal the homoerotic tensions that exist in many traditionally “male” pastimes. It’s after his brief encounter with the army that Brüno goes hunting with a couple of men. I guess it would’ve been too on the nose for Brüno to mention phallic symbols.
This movie is not for the feint of heart. It will make you laugh, and it will make you cringe. I can’t make any promises beyond that.