Saturday, July 11, 2009

Like: Brüno (Ich am Colored Unsurprised, but Whateva)

Back in college, one slow-going week of distraction, I tore through the DVDs of Sacha Baron Cohen's slice of televised genius Da Ali G. Show.  On those discs, the brief Brüno segments were frequently amongst my favorites. Here was a character with so much potential.  You could use him to open up and expose so much of what we're fed in our regular diet of popular culture.  Brüno was the antidote to everything in fashion, Hollywood, politics, religion, etc.  In the show's first season, Brüno began as a sort of quietly flamboyant persona for Baron Cohen. Brüno was over the top in a way that allowed him to blend into the absurd otherworld of the fashionistas, and to stand out in the day to day world.  He also functioned as a near-perfect tool to display Baron Cohen's clever, smart alecky, improvisational mind games. Unfortunately, like his mohawk, that was so 2000.  The new Brüno is louder, cruder, more unapologetic, and basically Borat with highlighted hair, a penchant for tight shiny clothes, and a joy for cramming objects up the rectums of himself and others.  The new Brüno is not quite the success I'd hoped for, and while it might be the best documentary of 2009, it's not the best comedy.
 As a film, Brüno is almost identical to Borat.  Cohen has constructed the storyboards in a way that's achingly similar.  Both films are sequenced to have a minimal plot line: Borat travels to America to make benefit glorious nation of Kazakhstan, Bruno hops across the pond to try and become famous after being ousted from his fashion TV show Funkyzeit in his native Austria.  From there, hilarity ensues and for 88 minutes, the audience is treated to stunt after stunt that showcasesthe shameless, brazen, ballsiness of Sacha Baron Cohen. These are one-take chances that frequently put him at more risk than a stunt double, and the stakes alone make the feat impressive...but, back to the subject at hand: Bruno and Borat are remarkably similar. Without getting into too many details (you don't want me to give too much away) i can tell you that Bruno has an assistant, whom he loses, and regains, but not before a bit of a wrestling match. Bruno has a down and out emotional breakdown. Bruno finds himself in racist, homophobic southern America. Sound familiar? It should. Watch the two movies back to back and count the ways.

The result is that Brüno, even as it's treading uncharted territory, feels a little stale.  Baron Cohen, for being such a trailblazer, seems to have unwisely taken the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" route, attaching himself to a formula that was so perfect the first time around it shouldn't be repeated.  Of course, Brüno is still absurdly, raucously funny, and the spectacle is worth the price of admission alone. In the canon of bad taste: Baron Cohen may have trumped John Waters while remaining poised, collected, and sparklingly upbeat. While (in terms of gag reflex) I may not be your average viewer, it seemed to me that the moments that were the most shocking (frequently involving copious amounts of surprising nudity or sexual interaction) were easily executed and easily passed with a blink and twinkly smile from the elfin (and really rather adorable) Baron Cohen before you even knew what hit you. The moments that were the most disturbing (just as in Borat) were those in which real people made real claims and were goaded into speaking opinions better left unsaid. At some point, a string of show biz moms and dads volunteer their children for the unthinkable (eating disorders, liposuction, virtual crucifixion, life endangering stunts, you name it) and there's a collective, noticeable hush that overtakes the theater.  It's moments like these that make Baron Cohen's brand of social commentary work.  In the middle of hilarity, there's that nagging reminder that the joke is on you, that this is how horrible human beings can be.

 Which leads us to the "gay" issue. In the midst of all the mixed uproar on the subject, for me, the issue of Bruno's sexuality was neither here nor there. He is unquestionably, parodically gay, yes. There are several scenes, it's true, that for Middle America will reach dazzling new heights of offensiveness solely because they're rooted in man-on-man action; but I'm pretty sure they're absolutely necessary in the context of the film. With Brüno, your gut reaction is part of the film's statement. Brüno is a trigger, and needs to exist as caricature to illicit the sort of bad behavior from which the film's action is derived. Think of it as a science experiment, with a century of stereotyping as the line-walking catalyst for a startling chain reaction. Sacha Baron Cohen should have a team traveling across this country right now filming the reactions and afterthoughts of the average US citizen, just to add a good 20 minutes of DVD special features. The results, I fear, would be frighteningly ignorant.  On the whole, i would argue that  Brüno paints a rather complete picture of the negative aspects of our society that may be rooted in homophobia, but extends rapidly into issues of racial and religious bigotry, human cruelty, stupidity and decrepitude. It's an uncomfortable terrain for a mainstream comedy. The socially conscious audience member will find their enjoyment of the film stressed by a rooting in a shaking sickness.  While you may be laughing along, you may also find yourself horrified as you struggle to escape the nagging feeling that the teenager two rows back might not be traveling on the same wavelength.

Either way, the potential to open eyes is there. Try as you might, you can't look away. The narrative may need work and the structure could be altered, but the risk makes it well worthwhile. Just, you know, don't watch it with your parents.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...