To be offended
by Sacha Baron Cohen's character Bruno, you have to be missing
the point that of course this former Austrian television
host is shallow and meant to be mocked. To be offended by
the movie Bruno, however, seems a little easier.
At last, a movie truly with something for everyone, even
if that something is outrage.
to be a comedian, Baron Cohen treads the more dangerous
ground of being a satirist. His comedy is confrontational
and dangerous, and probably safest viewed a few years afterward.
With Director Larry Charles, Baron Cohen has found a collaborator
who will help him push; the only real problem with Bruno
is that it can't focus on what it's trying to push against.
Or maybe that's
part of the joke, too. While the outré Bruno traipses
around the country innocently exposing homophobia, he might
be exposing the audience's as well. Sometimes it's an understandable
target; those that believe you can pray away the gay certainly
seem to be turning a blind eye to some realities.
But at other
points, the "real person" reaction to a Bruno situation
isn't small-minded. It's natural. Hotel security guards
aren't anti-gay; they're more disturbed by ridiculously
over-the-top bondage gear (including a combination ball-gag
and toilet brush), a room smeared with what looks like crap,
and a children's movie about to play on Pay-Per-View when
the remote control got stuck up Bruno's aschen, as
he pronounces it in his mock German.
Or maybe he
has exposed my own homophobia, which I rationalize is really
that I just don't believe in cleaning the toilet with my
mouth. Feel free to write in and put me straight. So to
The real thread
tying it all together comes from Bruno's quest to be famous,
a worthy if perhaps overused target of satire if there ever
was one. After proving how vapid his original milieu of
the fashion world is, Bruno leaves Austria for Hollywood.
There he and
Charles can slash viciously. After the success of Borat,
it seems impossible that there would be anyone in Los Angeles
unaware of Baron Cohen's bit, but there they are. An incredulous
talent manager and a television producer are probably the
most surprising marks; Paula Abdul, I believe would have
no clue. (And yet at least she walks out on him much faster
than his manager does.)
All the steps
Bruno takes for fame are outrageous, but painfully accurate.
It's just that sometimes the movie goes from accurate to
mean. Why should Senator Ron Paul be humiliated? Charles
and Baron Cohen don't seem to be saying anything about his
policies or his politics; they just want to see him get
uncomfortable and angry.
And why wouldn't
he? The same thing applies for an inexplicable side trip
to Army Boot Camp; we GET that Drill Sergeants can be a**holes;
in fact, that's pretty much their job.
brings up the question of how much really is staged instead
of let to happen organically. The Army had to have known
something was up, as Baron Cohen does nothing to
his hair in boot camp. While an exploration of a swinger's
club starts off seeming real, it ends up with Bruno gaining
a potential partner who isn't just in on the joke; she's
rewriting it as she goes along.
In other places,
it's amazing that Baron Cohen didn't get killed. A trip
to the Middle East seems hairy. A hunting trip turns really
bad - and there's no doubt that those guys aren't paid actors.
all, the comedian remains unflappable and committed to his
character. Like him or hate him, he is a strong talent,
unflappably his character in the face of danger. Ultimately,
this is what both redeems him and makes his films so worthwhile
even when they seem not to be. He's as unafraid of embarrassing
himself as he is others. At least he's willing to be part
of the joke.
If it seems
like I'm equivocating a bit, it's because I am. This movie
is offensive. It's designed to be offensive. Though I laughed
hard, I'm still pretty sure it was laughing back at me.
And yet, there's no denying a certain genius at work, one
that makes me intrigued to see it again and get the DVD
so that I can answer all my behind-the-scenes questions.
you're thin-skinned, stay home. You'll win, because after
all, satire is what closes on Saturday night. Too bad, because
it's exactly what we need, nagging at the edge of our culture.