Director – Larry Charles
Writers – Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines
Starring – Sacha Baron Cohen
English comedian, actor, and writer, Sacha Baron Cohen, responsible for the the 2006 box office hit and cultural phenomenon, ‘Borat’, is back this summer for round 2. This time he plays Bruno, a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista and TV personality. During the filming of an episode of his fashion-talk show Funkyzeit at a fashion show in Milan, Bruno has a major wardrobe malfunction as his cutting-edge “Velcro Suit” gets stuck on the clothes hanging in the back for the models. Bruno fights with the rack, covered in clothes, and stumbles onto the runway. He tries to stand up and play it off but is quickly escorted away by security. Bruno is shunned by the international fashion community and fired from his job on Funkyzeit. In a desperate career move, Bruno decides to venture to America, where he will seek to become “The most uber-famous gay Austrian since Schwarzenegger”.
Lets start by getting the obvious out of the way. Everyone wants to know how this film is stacking up against it’s predecessor, ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.’ While it does fall far short of the ideal followup, the likelihood of Cohen striking gold twice in this manner is simply impossible. The idea of an out-of-this-world character traveling across America, making a mockery of people can only work so many times before people start to recognize him and suspect something is up. While following the same general “mockumentary” format as ‘Borat’, ‘Bruno’ feels much more scripted. The editing is tighter, the story seems much more structured, and often times it feels like the “unsuspecting victims” may be in on the joke.
We follow Bruno as he heads to Hollywood in pursuit of fame. Along with him is his “assistants assistant”, Lutz, the only person in the world who thinks higher of Bruno than Bruno himself. It is obvious from the moment that we meet him, that he is going to be his sidekick and love interest. Together they are dedicated to traveling to America to make Bruno famous.
Where Borat seemed to be a naive and ignorant foreigner with good intentions, Bruno is a much less-likable character. He is an arrogant diva and almost acts as the antagonist throughout. This time, the film is less about what Cohen can corner people into admitting they’re thinking, and more about the “victims” reactions to his lewd antics and over-the-top, flamboyantly gay behavior.
‘Bruno’ is meant to be a social commentary on homophobia and the desperate lengths people are willing to go to in pursuit of fame. For the most part I think Cohen may have crossed boundaries and missed the target. Many of the scenes are so raunchy and pornographic that even the most open-minded and tolerant person can admit that at times, it’s a little much. Often times the audience is laughing less at the jokes and more from being extremely uncomfortable with the fact that they are sitting in an auditorium with 200 strangers, watching a three-story closeup of Bruno’s penis (uncensored) “wagging and spinning” to techno music. This is the type of film that pushes the boundaries of the ratings system as it somehow managed an “R” rating instead of an NC-17.
While more scenes in ‘Bruno’ feel scripted than in ‘Borat’, those that aren’t are much more uncomfortable. Bruno pushes people to a point where his safety seems in question. In one such scene, he travels to the “Middle Earth” (the Middle East) in an attempt to try to get himself kidnapped by terrorists. He thinks this will get him on the news and thus make him famous. Bruno sits down with a leader of the terrorist group Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade who are responsible for countless suicidal bombings in Israel and asks him why Osama Bin Laden “looks like a homeless Santa.”
In another scene, Bruno brings his new “Gayby” (according to the infants shirt) to a “Jerry Springer-esque” show. He sits down and explains that he got his child from Africa by “swapping him” for a limited-edition U2 iPod. He only compounds his problems by explaining to the all black audience that he decided to name his child “OJ” because he wanted a “traditional African name.”
Some of the funniest scenes come when Bruno comes to the realization that in order to be famous, he has to be straight. We follow him as he visits a swinger party, joins the National Guard, goes on a hunting trip with rednecks, and has a session with a “gay converter”, all in an effort to become straight “like Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kevin Spacey.”
In what is probably the most shocking scene in this film, Bruno interviews parents who are auditioning their infants to be in an extremely controversial photo-shoot with “OJ”. The role will involve the infants dressing in a Nazi uniform and pretending to push another baby into an oven. Bruno asks whether the children are “ok” with “bees, wasps, and hornets”, “dead or dying animals”, “rapid acceleration”, and “lit phosphorous”. It is incredible to watch as parent after parent explains to Bruno that their infants are perfectly comfortable with all of these things. When told that the ideal candidate will weigh 20lbs, the mother of one 30lb. infant agrees to have the child undergo liposuction if she’s not at weight on time. This is a sickening scene, but one that drives Cohens point home more in the style of ‘Borat’. It is incredible to watch as these twisted parents show that they will go to almost any length to get their children on the path to fame. If the entire movie were this way, ‘Bruno’ would be another Grand-Slam.
For a group of people who aren’t squeamish and are extremely open-minded, there are some gut-bustingly funny scenes that make going to this movie a really good time. To those who are a bit more conservative, however, Bruno perpetuates wildly flamboyant, sexually irresponsible negative stereotypes and takes them to a whole new level. Even if a closed-minded individual makes it through the film without storming out, Bruno’s wild antics and sexually provocative scenes are likely to keep most homophobes feet planted firmly on their side of the fence.