I'm one of those people who didn't buy into the hype of Borat back when it was released in 2006. Everywhere you went, it was praised as being one of the funniest and smartest films to be released in years. When such strong words were being used to describe a movie, I couldn't help but be a bit skeptical, but then I went and watched it, quickly jumping on the bandwagon, stroking its already inflated ego and speaking of its greatness to anybody who would listen. It even prompted me to go watch Da Ali G Show, where the character originated, and its big screen brother, Ali G Indahouse, a movie most people didn't seem to like, but I found to be cheerfully and hilariously stupid. I suppose I was destined to love Sacha Baron Cohen's newest film, Brüno, and I did. While it doesn't quite reach the same heights of Borat (more on that later), it is nevertheless one of the funniest films of the year and easily recommendable.
Similar to Borat, Brüno follows the titular character, a gay Austrian fashionista, in a mockumentary style film where he travels the globe offending as many people as possible in an hour and a half. After being fired from his Austrian fashion show, Funkyzeit, Brüno decides to travel to America to become a superstar, and he will do anything to achieve that goal. Along the way, he adopts a little black child, pitches a scandalous new show to a focus group, attempts to convert to a heterosexual, and more.
One can't help but applaud Sacha Baron Cohen's dedication to this role, one that is arguably more controversial than Borat. He walks around the world, in areas where he could literally be killed, dressing and acting like a gay man, performing outrageous stunts around unsuspecting people, and doing it all for the sake of entertainment. He takes what I considered the least effective character from his television show and reworks him into a lovable goof, a character I now extremely respect and wish for more of. The brief 82 minutes I spent with him was frankly not enough.
Brüno is funny. There's no doubt about that. The dilemma I've faced so far in attempting to detail why this movie is so good is that I don't want to give anything away, but how can I possibly explain a movie like this without spoiling certain parts? Part of the fun of the film is going into it unaware at what you are about to see. Revealing something as seemingly minor as the set-up will all but ruin many of the jokes. Therefore, my explanations will be brief. I may actually get into the negatives more than the positives, but don't take that, well, negatively. Brüno is one of the best times you're likely to have in a crowded theater this year.
One of the film's greatest strengths is that it is constantly funny, with not a single slow moment throughout. At certain points, it felt like certain scenes were going nowhere, with hardly a joke even tossed out, but by the end, there was always a payoff, including one scene where Brüno and his gay lover, who are chained together in a sexual contraption only Cohen's twisted mind could have thought of, walk past members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a religious group whose tactics include "preaching" the word of God through excessive gay bashing, carrying signs like "God Hates Fags" and "Fags Doom Nations." This is only a small scene, lasting a mere few seconds, but it's effective, it's funny and if you have any knowledge of the WBC, it's fulfilling in its own right to see such evil people be unknowingly ridiculed on a grand scale.
However, while both Brüno and Borat are equally funny in their own special, demented ways, Borat was more compelling because it provided a terrific social commentary on the ignorance of America. Despite our presence in foreign nations, we actually know very little about people overseas, and the film was quick to ridicule us because of it. People from Kazakhstan do not look or sound like Borat. In that film, Cohen actually spoke Hebrew and the lettering of certain so called "Kazakh" words were mostly nonsense letters tweaked to look like a foreign alphabet. That character, by simply existing and interacting with various people (including a few powerful politicians), worked in a way that satirized our naiveté. Brüno, on the other hand, merely plays off of already established stereotypes of gay men. While Borat spoofed us in an intelligent manner, Brüno basically spoofs himself. The debate on the nation's rampant homophobia was untouched throughout the first half of the film.
Fortunately, once Brüno goes to visit a priest, a so called "gay converter" (who compares homosexuals to terrorists), it finally begins to delve into this social taboo. Here, Brüno asks how he can spot a homosexual. The answer from the unsuspecting victim? They're very kind. Chances are if you're talking to an extremely nice man, he is gay. Whoa now, a courteous and polite person? Stay away from that one. By the end of the movie, his victims aren't simply in disgust at his actions; they're spewing verbal hatred and throwing chairs. The first half is a bit sluggish, but the back half eventually accomplishes the goal of exploring the hot topic of homophobia.
The film was a bit unfocused as well, attacking people that didn't necessarily need to be picked on. One scene shows Brüno as he interviews a handful of parents in auditions for their babies. He poses outlandish situations that would put their babies in danger, but they all go with the flow because they are desperate for their baby to land the part. One parent even agrees to put her baby on a diet, going so far as to agree to give it liposuction if it hadn't lost the weight by the desired time. Okay. What's the point? In a way, Cohen's making a statement about bad parenting, but that's not what this movie is about. It was shocking and disturbing, sure, but it wasn't relevant. That was the problem.
Still, the main purpose of the film is to be funny and it most certainly is. Brüno pushes the envelope about as far as it can go and in my desire to avoid spoilers, I haven't even scratched its surface. It's disappointing to see the obvious option for social commentary go to the wayside for much of the film, but you likely won't care because you'll be clutching your sides in uproarious laughter. Brüno is offensive. It's in bad taste. It's pure idiotic lunacy with ample amounts of gratuitous nudity and yeah, that means it's a must see.
Brüno receives 4.5/5