THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayBorat was offensive, funny and likable. Brüno is obnoxious for the sake of trying to be offensive.
"Brüno" is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. This is a review of the DVD.
Sasha Baron Cohen has shown that he's a genius in comedy. By taking basically the same premise of a naive reporter in disguise, Cohen uses his dimwitted characters to delve into our insecurities. He's brilliant at putting politicians and celebrities on the spot. When his gags work, even when they're offensive to some, they're extremely funny.
The thing that worked with both Ali G and Borat is how naive these guys are. Ali G tried to be hip and intelligent and failed at both. Borat is quite simply a dunce, yet he's so dumb we end up liking the guy. When "Borat" the movie was released, I saw it in a sold out show. Everyone in the auditorium squirmed in some scenes, but ended up laughing anyway. Borat, even when he was doing something questionable to most people's values, seemed to want to please people. Was I offended by some of the gags? Sure, but I also understood the intent with most of them.
"Brüno" is different. His aim is to make you squirm. He doesn't care if you like him or not, and I think that's part of the reason why the film doesn't work. The original sketch based on the faux Austrian super model was tolerable and occasionally funny, but he wasn't anywhere as clever as Cohen's other alter egos. Brüno is obnoxious, cruel and too over the top. I can appreciate some of the jokes he presents in this film, but I found that I was not laughing with most of them. I wanted the film to end. That's saying a lot, especially since it's not a long movie.
Reviewing this film isn't easy, because Cohen and his collaborators clearly wanted a reaction out of the public and critics. They knew they'd more than likely offend some people, even those who knew who the Brüno character was about. There's no winning with reviewing "Brüno." If you don't like the film, and you're offended or uncomfortable with certain scenes, then you're branded as being anti-gay, whether or not that's true. Or you can't take a joke.
Indeed, "Brüno" is meant to offend. Who that is, it's hard to say. Is he meant to offend so-called Middle Americans? Were audiences in Los Angeles and New York supposed to get all the jokes and jabs, while the rest of the country wasn't? We supposedly live in a more tolerant society today. Many states have voted for the legalization of gay marriage. TV talk shows feature openly gay entertainers and have for several years now. But I'm not sure if the public was ready for the sight of "Brüno" and his escapades. Just as some people don't like movies with gratuitous violence, some don't like gratuitous sex scenes, whether they're done by heterosexual or gay actors.
I look at the world pretty simply. Either you feel comfortable with something or you don't. I felt uncomfortable with this film. Mission accomplished. But I did not like this film, jokes aside. The jokes aren't very funny, though I did laugh at a few. Brüno, the character, was annoying. He is really a jerk. Jerky characters can be likable. Ricky Gervais specializes in them. But I didn't like the character of Brüno. I actually felt bad for some of Brüno's victims, including the politicians, and I don't care for politicians. It was almost as if watching the class clown take a joke too far.
Cohen is a comedic genius and he's a talented actor. Just witness him in "Sweeney Todd" or his voicing in the "Madagascar" movies. Maybe this was a rare misstep for Cohen, and maybe choosing Brüno as his follow-up wasn't the best choice.
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