Saturday, July 11, 2009
I remember when Borat came to theatres, and the heightened sense of anticipation that came along with it - the anticipation that this movie might be like nothing we’d ever seen before within the realms of comedy.
And Borat delivered. Like gluttonous, joy-deprived little beings imprisoned by our own proprieties, we soaked up the in-your-face, line-crossing, taking-it-way-too-far satirical gongshow stylings of one Sacha Baron Cohen. He held a mirror up to society and we jumped all over each other to see what he had to show us - and it was us (or at least, Americans) in our least flattering state. Offended, shocked, disturbed - we laughed. And we wanted more.
This summer, we got it. Bruno is the next installment in this comedy-knows-no-boundaries style saga. Where Borat was ignorant, Bruno is fully up-to-speed on American culture, celebrity and fashion. As the former host of Funkyzeit, “ze biggest fashion TV program in the German-speaking world, not including Germany,” Austrian fashion-journalist Bruno is on the up-and-up, and instructs all on what is cool at the moment (autism) and not so cool (chlamydia), until a mishap at Milan fashion week in an all-velcro suit gets him fired from his job, dumped by his boyfriend, and shunned by the Austrian fashion industry. Learning an important lesson that the fashion world is “superficial,” Bruno packs his bags, takes his adoring assistant Lutz, and moves to Los Angeles to become a super star.
What follows is nothing short of jaw-dropping shock-value comedy at its raunchiest. The nudity, the sex (both real and suggested), the jokes and the acting all make the naked-man fight in Borat look like a G-rated Disney film -- seriously, if I may get preachy for just a moment, please do not take your children to see this film - though rated 18 A I saw numerous groups of young children at the theatre who weren’t even old enough to be in high school. Kids may have enjoyed the antics of Borat, but they won’t get the satire and more importantly, the sexuality is far and above anything they will understand - I’m an adult and I was disturbed!
But, disturbing is clearly the goal here. Bruno, who takes camp to the extreme, purposefully goes into some of the most homophobic communities in America (and elsewhere). He pushes buttons and provokes in ways that are so over the top gay, in places that are so over the top anti-gay, it’s almost too much of an easy target. Bruno does not know subtlety, and for the most part, the homophobic people he encounters do not know tolerance. He is like one big traveling Gay Pride Parade, moving into towns who don’t want it, and infiltrating the corners of the world where people would rather pretend homosexuality does not exist.
The gay innuendo, the visuals, the acts are meant to make us squirm - and we do - even the most progressive of us - because Cohen wants a visceral reaction. He wants us to face it full frontal, (no pun intended) and decide how we really feel about it. At the end of the day, homosexuality does not just occur behind closed doors - gay members of society walk the earth like everyone else - and they are just as vulnerable and victimized when their sexuality is understated as when it is on full, flaming display.
My only concern is whether Cohen really vindicates gays in this film or whether he makes a mockery of them. It’s just SO exaggerated - he does to gay sex what Tarantino did to violence in the Kill Bill franchise. The sex references are hilariously silly - gay people are seen to only enjoy leather, chains, bondage and exercise machines with dildos strapped on the end. But will straight people get the joke?
Beyond the shock, Cohen brings back the comedy in full swing, and when your jaw isn’t hanging open, you’ll be busy laughing your head off, or, fearing for Cohen’s life. A celebrity in his own right now, it is much more obvious that this time around interviews with unsuspecting American officials and celebrities are harder to obtain for Cohen. In a lot of places, the jig is up, and there are more questions now about what’s real, what’s staged, and who might be in on what joke. Still, he manages to get Republican Ron Paul to squeal out his homophobic feelings, insult Osama bin Laden while seated in a terrifying interview with a terrorist leader in Labanon, and get Paula Abdul to sit on “Mexican furniture.”
All in all, it’s shock and awe at its peak, and Cohen again needs to be commended on an explosive performance and the ability to never break character at some of the most tense moments. I only wish there could have been more interviews - some of the best moments, as in Borat, are when Cohen quiets down and the interviewee fully displays his own blatant discriminatory (or just stupid - see the scene with the LA PR firm girls) attitudes.
My suggestion - if you think you can stomach it, go see it. Or, go see it if you can’t stomach it. Maybe especially if you can’t.