Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bruno ist Coming!

I watched "Bruno" again the other day, and it inspired me to dig up something I'd written about for "The Daily's" blog earlier this summer (I was the blog manager right before The Daily decided to "go in a different direction" with it).

Here it is. For some reason I can't find the article on The Daily's webiste, but the link to the blog is here.

Since we’re all about satire here at “No Exit Nearby” Enterprises, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a little bit about Sacha Baron Cohen’s newest film Brüno.

The film tells the story of Brüno (Sacha Baron Cohen), a gay Austrian fashionista bent on becoming “uber-famous,” and who will do anything in his power to achieve this glory. Along the way, Brüno comes to the United States, pitches his own celebrity talk show, travels to the Middle East to solve the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, adopts a black baby, and generally makes a fool of himself and anyone around him.

In this follow-up to his 2006 hit, "Borat," Cohen takes aim at a vast number of subjects, from the idea of instant celebrity to stage parents. But to me, the most fascinating target in the film is the concept of sexuality.

Some have complained that Brüno is an unfair caricature of homosexuality, and the first hour of the film almost bears that out as Brüno is depicted in a number of extremely graphic and bizarre sex scenes. Homosexual sex is portrayed as ridiculous and utterly alien to a heterosexual audience.

However — and we’re getting into spoiler territory here, so reader beware — in the film’s third act, Brüno decides the only way to become famous is to become straight, like his favorite movie stars, Tom Cruise, Kevin Spacey and John Travolta. What then follows in the film are Brüno’s numerous attempts to rid himself of his homosexuality, from visiting a pastor specializing in gay conversion, joining the National Guard and going hunting with three freaked-out hunters.

Late in the film Brüno attends a swingers party and while graphic, absolutely real sex occurs, Brüno stands horrified, unable to understand heterosexuality. The gay sex acts at the beginning of the film might have been ridiculous, but they’re no more ridiculous than the actions of these straight people. Heterosexual sex is just as bizarre as anything Brüno engages in. At least it looked like Brüno was having fun.

The film reaches a climax of sorts — sorry — with Straight Dave’s steel cage match. Straight Dave, Brüno’s alter ego while trying to shed the last of his homosexuality, greets the crowd and whips them into anti-gay, proudly heterosexual fury. He challenges anyone to question his masculinity and is admonished by his spurned lover, Lutz. As the two fight, the crowd delights in the pure spectacle of two men wrestling each other. Their excitements turns to horror, as Brüno and his lover stop fighting and begin to make love on the cage floor. The crowd is visibly shaken as they watch heterosexuality die right before their eyes. From there on out, they will never be able to watch a steel cage without seeing the homosexual overtones.

And that really is the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen, Director Larry Charles and the writers: They managed to take a gay stereotype and make a movie where the joke is the people reacting to him. Brüno is a ridiculous character, but his actions in the film with real people expose the absurdity of all sex. The movie states blatantly that if you’ve got a problem with gay people, take a look at your own sexual practices. You’re a lot sicker than you think you are.

I don’t know if Brüno will change any minds but it takes a gigantic stab in the right direction. Any movie released as a summer blockbuster that makes you feel uncomfortable with your own preconceptions is one worth seeing.

Watching "Bruno" again with a few people who'd never seen it reminded me just how shocking the movie is. There's something about the movie that makes people genuinely uncomfortable. The easy explanation is that they're all homophobes, but I think it goes beyond that. Bruno is such a ferocious sexual being, and the filmmakers have absolutely no inhibitions; the stuff that happens in film goes beyond the cheerfulness of "Borat" into dark, strange territory. It's a potent mix that assured the film's relative failure at the box-office (though 60 million is still a remarkable sum of money for a movie where we're treated to a close-up of a penis spinning around and yelling "Bruno!" at us).

I still think "Bruno" is hilarious, and the passing years will only further cement it as a truly weird, cult classic. See it with someone you love.

And yes it has occurred to me I'm writing about a movie like this on Christmas Eve; it's my gift to you.

Merry Christmas!

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