Brüno (18)

Directed by Larry Charles
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer, Jeff Schaffer and Peter Baynham
On general release from 10th July 2009

Reviewed by Adam Ford

There is a special type of laugh that might only be heard at screenings of Sacha Baron Cohen films. It starts with a rapid, high-pitched expulsion of air from the lungs, at the moment when you can't believe he just did that. But it is quickly strangled in the throat, in the instant when you realise you're not sure what you're laughing at, or whether you'd like to sit next to the kind of person who finds that sort of thing funny.

Following on from lightweight political spoof Ali G Indahouse (2002), and the often deceptively clever journey into the dark side of the American dream that was Borat (2006), Brüno is just a silly caricature of a gay man. Sacked from his Austrian fashion TV show, he travels to the US with loyal assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) in step, seeking celebrity by any means necessary.

So yes, he films a disastrous pilot show, he swaps an African baby for an iPod and names him ‘O.J.’ (“a traditional African name”), and he even tries to become hetero, with the ‘help’ of a deeply bigoted church pastor, and ever-so-straight activities such as going into the woods with a bunch of men and killing furry creatures.

On Da Ali G Show – the Channel Four series that spawned all three of Baron Cohen’s big screen alter egos – he used the naivety of his creations to draw out subversive revelations from his often clueless yet pompous establishment guests. Brüno in particular has travelled a long way since then. Previously, he encouraged us to laugh at the vacuity of the fashion industry, as he metaphorically stripped away the glitz and revealed that the emperor was actually starkers. Now, as a hypersexual cartoon, he offends and upsets exactly the people you might expect to be offended and upset by having queerness thrust in their faces (puns very much intended).

In one scene, 2008 Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul is Brüno’s victim. Paul is a racist, anti-abortionist, ultra-nationalist representative of the US super elite. But as Brüno postpones an ‘interview’, marches Paul to a bedroom and starts gyrating – apparently attempting to ‘seduce’ the seventy-three-year-old so he can make a sex tape – it’s easy to feel sorry for an elderly man who has blatantly been conned and sexually intimidated. Under extreme provocation, he leaves the bedroom and barks a few words at a crewmember, like most people would. Is this meant to be funny, or merely shocking?

Buried under piles of cash beyond his wildest dreams, it is easy to see why Baron Cohen wouldn’t be particularly bothered by establishment hypocrisy these days. Instead, like some of the worst comedians in circulation, he has been reduced to nothing more than shock tactics. Time and time again, Brüno acts in a way specifically designed to upset certain people, and then they are upset. Presumably, we’re meant to pat ourselves on the back for only laughing ‘ironically’. It's like...vassever.

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