25 July 2009

First Impressions: Bruno

The name Bruno, alone should conjure an assortment of nasty filthy images to disturb and damage the soul for a lifetime. No need to dirty up that title.

Let's start off with a few things first here: I'm a huge Sacha Baron Cohen fan. I love Da Ali G show, love Indahouse, love his appearances in Talladega and Madagascar, even while disliking much of the latter. Then, there's Borat. I absolutely loved Borat, it's probably one of my top comedies of the last decade. Bruno, however, left something to be desired, I feel. The Spider-Man 3 Effect.

I couldn't exactly place my impressions until I read some other reviews online which more captured what I felt (here and here). The major problem is that Bruno really wasn't that funny. Borat had constant laugh out loud on the floor moments, Bruno had a good amount of laughs and jaw-dropping moments, but not really enough to sustain its material. Comedies float on their own from their humour. That's how a movie like "The Hangover" makes $242 million and counting. Now, I hate comparing Bruno to Borat, really, they're two different films from different years, but really, the comparison is inevitable.

Bruno on the whole, seemed rushed and forced (Please take the pun there). Cohen blows his wad early in a lot of scenes, and the whole movie ends up only being 76 minutes long. While Borat had a more focused goal of getting to California to force Pamela to marry him, Bruno was much vaguer, seeking only "to get famous." This seemed much more open ended, and to me it felt like an indiction more of our superficial, celebrity-obsessed culture than of homophobia. And while that shouldn't matter in a movie like this that is essentially sketches, Borat pulled off his locations he winds up in through this excuse, Bruno seemed much more random, going to the Middle East for some reason seemed very out of place, and only revealed Bruno's own ignorance rather than that of his subjects, which seems counter-productive to Cohen's goals.

As I mentioned, Cohen seems to be spoofing the culture of celebrity more than anything else. Bruno is a wannabe diva, evident from his inability to take criticism, his adoption of an "accessory" baby, and desire to help the new "in" charity. He succeeds in highlighting the superfluousness and vanity of celebrity culture, but does this not through any interviews (kind of in the kind of funny Paula Abdul scene), but more through his own thoughts and actions.

His double attack this time around seems to be getting at this hubris as well as exposing Southern American homophobia. And well, c'mon, getting drunk Alabamans to act homophobic is like shooting fish in a barrel. To some extent, Cohen really fishes for the reactions he wants, and there are only a few scenes that give really surprising reactions. Honestly, I can't believe a focus group disliked a pilot that featured a swinging male penis screaming "BRUUUNO!!" If not liking huge strange penises flying in your face is homophobic...well shit. Nation's screwed.

There were a handful of scenes that worked well, however, and I want to mention these here. They tended to be the scenes that were most "Borat-like" I feel. The first is the scene were he interviews prospective parents about casting their babies for some racy photo shoots. One of the few surprising scenes, no matter how hard he pushed (have your baby dressed as Hitler, strung up on crucifixes, around live hornets, etc), the parents were always eager for a shot at stardom. It worked because it didn't focus on Bruno's homosexuality, in fact, it didn't focus on Bruno at all. The scene worked because of surprisingly scary comments made from the interviewees desperate for their children to become stars, showing how deep the temptation of celebrity culture can penetrate. Borat in a few scenes (the Frat boys come to mind) knew to step back and let the jokes make themselves, which Bruno was able to do here.

A lot of Bruno interviews started with a decent premise, but then rushed into the worst possible territory instead of building trust and subtlety (I got this from another review, I think FilmSchoolRejects, I agree with 'em). Whereas, for instance, Borat's "Humour Coach" or the auto-dealership were allowed to gestate and pound out some rapid jokes, Bruno and Ron Paul or the Mossad agents went by rapid fire, with the same "gay" joke immediately ending the interview. The Dildo-Attack scene (which was a lot like the Borat car salesman agreeing with which SUV was best suited to "run down Jews") was one of the best scenes, mostly because Bruno was pretending to be straight. In fact, once he started trying to become straight and fight his urges he was able to coax some of the better reactions from his interviewees who would then agree with him that homosexuality was fundamentally wrong and needed to be fixed. This is Cohen's major thesis with Bruno, and pure gay shock (I imagine even most gays are turned off by pouring champagne bottles out of their ass) doesn't contribute to the unifying idea. Likewise, some of the interviews with the Reverends elicited the types of responses that were akin to Borat getting people to agree with him that Jews were evil.

So, my final impressions is that Bruno failed more than he hit the mark, although there are a fair amount of scenes that are exceptionally hilarious. I really wasn't shocked by too much in this movie, to be honest. I must watch too much hardcore pornos. The sex acts are wrong, but I hate to admit I've probably seen worse things done with people who aren't faking it. And I might be the only reviewer on the internet to admit this. C'mon. You've all seen this shit before. There's hardly any violence or swearing either, most of it coming form German gibberish, which also may have been me, but got really annoying after a while, too. At least Borat had subtitles for their gibberish.

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