The character of Brüno is fantastic, and Baron Cohen again commits so fully to the role that we forget we are watching an actor.
Is Sacha Baron Cohen a comedic genius or a megalomaniac? Are his films high-brow satire or offensive and disgusting? Is he an expert at getting people to reveal who they truly are, or just a bully who embarrasses unsuspecting people on camera? Baron Cohen has become synonymous with the word "controversial" because of his willingness to push himself and his (occasionally unwitting) costars far past the audience’s comfort zone, whether to get a laugh or make a point. Some people applaud him for his courageousness and talent, while others vilify him and label his performance art as merely "pranks."
In his previous film, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Baron Cohen traveled throughout the United States and, through interviews with real Americans, showed our true opinions on race, homosexuals, religion, terrorism, feminism and political relations. In Brüno, the comedian focuses his satirical eye on how Americans treat and view gays when smacked in the face with blatant homosexuality. Just as in Borat, Baron Cohen completely transforms into the character, becoming practically unrecognizable.
Brüno (Baron Cohen) is an Austrian fashionista and the host of the hit television show Funkyzeit which, among other things, highlights what’s "in" and what’s "out" (FYI: autism is in; Chlamydia is out). When Brüno is suddenly blacklisted from the European fashion scene, he decides to travel to America to become the most famous Austrian since Adolf Hitler. He tries his hand at charity ("Darfur is so old. What’s Dar-five?") with no luck. He follows Madonna’s and Angelina Jolie’s leads and swaps his iPod for an African baby, only to have little O.J. ripped from his arms by Child Protective Services. In utter despair, Brüno realizes that all the famous men in America are straight, and that this is what he must do in order to attain fame.
The majority of the film’s social commentary is exemplified in Baron Cohen’s interactions with people as Brüno learns to act straight, taking guidance from Christian ministers, hunters and the National Guard. There is a particularly revealing and disturbing scene featuring a stadium of UFC fans who don’t get the show they are expecting. As in Borat, we get the sense that Baron Cohen narrowly escaped the scene without serious injuries.
If you enjoyed Borat, then you will love Brüno. It’s absolutely hilarious, the character of Brüno is fantastic, and Baron Cohen,again commits so fully to the role that we forget we are watching an actor. Of course, the best parts of the movie are when Brüno is interviewing real people, but there is plenty of comedy elsewhere that shows just how far Baron Cohen is willing to push the MPAA.
Brüno‘s only detriment is that there are far more scripted scenes than there were in Borat. Clearly, Baron Cohen didn’t have a choice; as he is now one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world, people are more likely to be on the lookout for him. But even aside from that, there are times when the "real people" are clearly in on the joke and it distracts from truly enjoying what’s happening. As funny as these scenes are, it’s too hard to dismiss the fact that they aren’t authentic.
Still, the film deserves to be seen if for no other reason than Baron Cohen’s fantastic performance. He is often labeled as this generation’s Andy Kaufman and I can’t think of a more appropriate or honorable comparison. One gets the sense that if Kaufman had lived in today’s world, he would surely be pulling the same kind of tricks and offending the same kind of people. | Matthew F. Newlin