The Videogum Movie Club: Bruno

By Gabe Delahaye / July 13, 2009

Unlike for Sexman, Bruno met all of my expectations. I expected there to be really funny parts in the movie, and there were! And I expected certain aspects of the movie to leave me feeling kind of uncomfortable and confused, and certain aspects did! Perhaps the one way in which Bruno really did not meet my expectations is that I fully expected to leave the movie theater knowing whether I liked the movie or not, and I don’t! There are things I liked about it and things I didn’t like about it in almost equal number, and two days later I’m still not sure what to make of it.

What a weird movie, you guys!

First of all, let’s talk about some of the things that were funny. Like the entire Today with Richard Bey segment. Lots of Love. And also the scene where Bruno interviews all of the stage moms for the Hitler photoshoot with his baby. Those moms were crazy and would basically kill their babies to try and get them famous! Yikes, moms! Oh, and remember those two publicists who didn’t know how to say Darfur? They were dumb!

There were obviously other funny parts, but I’m getting bored of listing funny parts and want to get to talking about this movie’s problems.

Watching Bruno reminded me of I Am Sam, and other grand entries in the long tradition of serious actors playing the mentally retarded. At a certain point, the line between Sean Penn portraying a retarded person and Sean Penn mimicking a retarded person gets really blurry. That point is somewhere right after the opening credits and right before the second scene. Obviously, Bruno is a comedy, and the goals and motivations are different. But how far can something being a comedy take you in the defense of doing things that are weird and kind of terrible? At the very least, I’m not convinced it takes you far enough. This movie is obviously trying to be something bigger than a broad, dumb comedy. Cohen selects relevant, hot button issues to lampoon because those issues are more interesting and full of highly charged material. But then, if he misses the mark, it’s not just a joke that falls flat, it’s an insult. Or worse.

It’s not like the character doesn’t work. We have evidence that the character can work great.

But something changed. Like, that scene near the beginning where he was having sex with his boyfriend? What was that? Here is what A.O. Scott at the New York Times thinks it was:

An early sequence that graphically shows Brüno and his lover exerting themselves in various positions and with the assistance of, among other things, a Champagne bottle, a fire extinguisher and a specially modified exercise machine, derives its humor less from the extremity of their practices than from the assumption that sex between men is inherently weird, gross and comical. The same sequence with a man and a woman — or for that matter, two women — would play, most likely on the Internet rather than in the multiplex, as inventive, moderately kinky pornography rather than as icky, gasp-inducing farce.

Really, A.O. Scott? Would it play as inventive, moderately kinky pornography? A.O. Scott is a pervert! I am just kidding, he probably is not a pervert. But I don’t buy this argument. I think that scene was really gross, kind of offensive, and most importantly not funny. The argument that it was confronting viewers with their own repulsion at the idea of men having sex doesn’t really work for me, because it was confronting viewers with such an outrageous concept of sex that you can’t really separate the sources of your “repulsion.” And the fact of the matter is that Sacha Baron Cohen is not gay, so regardless of his good intentions or his “it’s a comedy” defense, the fact of the matter is that it’s still a heterosexual’s joke interpretation of gay sex, and something about that is weird to me.

Which gets to the heart of a lot of this: what is Sacha Baron Cohen doing here, and why is he doing it? This seems, again, to go beyond the simple desire to get a laugh. Sacha Baron Cohen could get lots of laughs with a lot less work than he obviously put into this movie. If nothing else, Bruno stands as an exhausting testament to his dedication. The entire sequence in the Middle East, for example? Oh my goodness! Be careful, Sacha Baron Cohen! And the gay conversion ministers were basically invented by God for this movie. But a lot of his other targets just struck me as odd. The Ron Paul scene, for example? Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles, the movie’s director, were really lucky that Ron Paul had that sad “queer” explosion at the end to justify them putting the rest of the preceeding scene in the movie, because without him looking like a bigot, it would have just been a prancing comedian picking on an old man in a sad prank. Which is, actually, despite the “queer” explosion at the end, what it was. Ron Paul is a mildly eccentric politician, but he’s not really anyone’s enemy. Watching him squirm while a purported Austrian interviewer tries to seduce him in a bedroom wasn’t that funny, and it certainly wasn’t funny enough to support the “Ru Paul” joke to which that entire scene seemed to be in service.

And when the redneck on the hunting trip slaps the camera and tells everyone to get the fuck out, it wasn’t because he was homophobic (although he might have been homophobic), it was because he got woken up in the middle of the night, TWICE, by an incredibly obnoxious stranger. I would have smacked the camera and told everyone to get the fuck out, too. The joke that Sacha Baron Cohen makes, that a bear destroyed everything he had including his clothes and only left a pack of condoms is a really funny joke just on its own (again with the how he could get laughs without all the work), but as with a lot of the jokes in this movie, they’re thrown in the face of unsuspecting people who were probably just trying to get through the day. Which can be hard enough as it is sometimes.

So, I don’t know. I would like to see this movie again. It is certainly something.

You guys?