Brüno (2009)

Brüno is a terrifying movie, full of stupidity and obscenity, aimed at a audience who wants to be offended for 80 minutes. Is it funny? I didn’t think so, but I’m sure a lot of other people would. Is it offensive? You bet it is. Sacha Baron Cohen knows how to offend, and also how to get laughs from those who find him funny. Not being one of those people, I was only offended, but not just for myself. I felt bad for many of the groups targeted by Cohen’s character, Brüno. I suppose they can stick up for themselves, but I found myself feeling sympathetic toward them, not to Brüno.

Brüno is a mockumentary staring Cohen, playing a character who previously appeared in skits for a couple of television shows. Brüno is a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion reporter, who one day gets fired for something I can’t even remember. He decides to flee the country, head to America, and pursue his dream of becoming a celebrity. No, he doesn’t want to do anything important and then become a celebrity as a result; his end-goal is becoming a celebrity.

Of course, like all rags-to-riches films, he’s going to have to fall before he can succeed. So he falls hard, really hard, and that’s where most of the jokes come from. One failure after another, one harder fall after the last one, and we’re supposed to be laughing at that. I guess it’s funny to see a man turned down over and over again while pursuing his goals. Of course not! The jokes come from the individual scenes in which Brüno does offensive things that offend the people he does them to.

See, like Borat before it, Brüno doesn’t have a lot of staged scenes. The reactions that the character gets are more often than not genuine, and the people he interacts with don’t know that this is a character. They think he’s a real person, and therefore don’t think he’ll go in the direction he so frequently does. This is where pretty much all of the humor lies. Seeing Paula Abdul react to sitting on living people instead of chairs and being told to eat the food sitting on a naked man instead of a table is hilarious, or so the movie hopes we think.

I’m sorry that I didn’t think it was funny. Having a satirical character fool a bunch of people in ways that are basically an R-rated version of Punk’d isn’t that funny to me, okay? I think that Sacha Baron Cohen can be really funny, and I didn’t even mind Borat when I saw it back in ’06, but this one just didn’t work for me. I don’t say that in hopes that you don’t go see it, because there’s a good chance you’ll absolutely love it. It just wasn’t for me.

You’ve got to hand it to the film’s star, writer, and producer, though. He’ll do whatever he can to offend you or make you laugh — or both at the same time, which, to him, is probably preferable. He puts it all on the line, to the point of excess, and there definitely aren’t any walls put up in his performance. He takes on a character and he’ll stick with it to the very end. “I’m going to be a stereotypically gay Austrian fashion reporter,” he says, and then he does it without a second thought.

I admire that. Really, I do. I don’t even know what I would have done differently if I was in the shoes of everyone putting this thing together. Approaching it with more of a narrative might have been a start, but they were hoping to recapture the success that made Borat a surprise hit. It worked really well there, and that might be why Brüno doesn’t register. Brüno was so funny and so offensive that this one feels like it’s there just to top it. Everything is turned up to 10 because it has to be better than Borat was.

Instead of laughing, I just felt sorry for the targets. The LGBT community, Germanic culture, the Hollywood stars that the character supposedly idolizes — they all deserved more sympathy than his shallow body deserves. And because he subjects us to all of this obscenity, I found myself really hating him. Do you really want to see a penis be the only thing on-screen, swinging around for a minute or two? I know I don’t, and neither did the characters watching it within the film. It’s offensive for the sake of being offensive, nothing more.

I was a little surprised to see the amount of real life talent that participated in this film. You see Brüno interact with so many well-known names and you think “Why did these people agree to this?” I have to wonder how the conversation went when contacting the representatives for these people. “Would you like to appear in our totally serious documentary? No, I can’t tell you what it’s about. Want to do it anyway?” And they all said yes, somehow. It’s weird what people will do in order to get in front of a camera (or get paid).

Brüno didn’t often make me laugh. Sure, it offended me, but I suppose I was missing the point, or just didn’t enjoy that reaction. It’s a worse version of Borat, I found, with a weaker character and fewer jokes. It’s all about the reactions of the people Brüno comes into contact with, and how offended they (and you) are. You very likely will enjoy it, but I didn’t find much of Brüno funny and I know that I’ll never watch it again.

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