Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ach-Yah or Nicht-Nicht?

Now for what you’ve all been waiting for: my Brüno review. Let me just start by saying that this film is just as hilarious and perhaps even more outrageous, disgusting, incendiary and complicated than its predecessor Borat. The undeniably brilliant Sacha Baron Cohen has a knack for creating films that – whether you love or hate them – raise many issues and cannot be ignored. In fact, eliciting strong reactions from his audience and spurring discussion is arguably what he is best at, and with Brüno this proves to be no exception. However, while Brüno is fascinating and undeniably hysterical, it is also a definite disappointment especially when compared to Borat.

In many ways it is unfair – though inevitable – to compare the two films. Borat had the huge advantage of coming first and of being utterly unique, thus creating – in my opinion – a revolutionary oasis in the arid world of modern cinema. Never before had someone blended fiction and fact in such an innovative and socially relevant, revealing way. Thus it is unavoidable that Brüno would fail to be as fresh, as it follows the exact same method of storytelling. However, Brüno not only falls short in this respect; it is less structured and not nearly as culturally significant as Borat.

While both films follow a clear plotline, Brüno spends much time meandering. Borat follows a plainly directed course across America in his quest to make a documentary about “U.S and A” and find his beloved “Pam-ella,” but Brüno’s quest is murkier. He starts out in Austria, where he finds himself in the middle of a major faux pas and seeks to rectify his fall from social grace by becoming internationally famous. Fair enough. From here he decides to travels rather haphazardly from Austria to America to the “Middle Earth” (or Middle East) and then back to America, which makes for a more convoluted, less understandable plotline.

However, the film’s structural concerns are minimal compared to its larger shortcomings. In essence, the point of Brüno is vastly underdeveloped. While Borat sought to expose America’s latent anti-Semitism, racism and misogyny, Brüno tackles homophobia, shallowness and general ignorance but with much less success. For whatever reason, Brüno fails to uncover nearly as much damning material from those he interviews.

To the film’s credit, some scenes work brilliantly; my favorite is one in which Brüno interviews stage parents about casting their toddlers in an extremely un-P.C photo shoot that involves pushing a Jewish child into a stove. Their willingness to comply with the horrific questions he asks them just to get their children cast – including if their two year-olds could undergo liposuction or operate large, out of date machinery – are truly horrifying and Baron Cohen scores big in exposing cultural ignorance in all its hideousness. Other successful scenes include the “Jew Converter” scene, and one in which Brüno interviews two of the dumbest charity organizers ever.

However, too often Brüno attempts to uncover hidden prejudices by putting people in strange, uncomfortable situations, but fails in attaining his goal. For example, scenes like the one where he locks himself in a room with Ron Paul and begins to undress, or tells Paula Abdul to sit on a person instead of a chair while discussing her good deeds for humanity are hilarious but fail to expose anything about society. In both cases, Paul and Abdul act as anyone would if put in such a ridiculous, awkward situation and thus, while the scenes succeed on a comedic level, they don’t have much any cultural significance.

Perhaps this trend of setting up a ridiculous yet ultimately pointless scenarios is most noticeable in the scene in which Brüno takes his African baby on a talk show and proceeds to insult the intelligence of his audience by calling Africa a “country filled with African Americans,” and proclaiming that he got his baby (named O.J) by “swapping him for an ipod.” The audience is understandably irate, and it is extremely unclear who is being made fun of and exposed as ignorant. Surely it’s not the justifiably enraged audience, so it must be Brüno himself. But if that’s the case, then what’s the point of the scene?

Here we get into the complicated and over-discussed issue of whether – by watching and laughing at Brüno – we are laughing at or with gay people. Though I don’t personally find Brüno offensive (despite the fact that he is a stupid, crude caricature of a gay man), I completely understand how many people would find him to be so. Borat, by contrast, was also a disgusting character, but the film sought to condemn the traits Borat himself held, while Brüno arguably seeks to expose homophobia, not make gay people look worse. Regardless of one’s personal response to Brüno, his character and many of the scenes in his film are less clear and socially relevant than Borat, making me question who or what I was really laughing at and why.

So yes, Brüno is just as funny as Borat. I laughed the whole way through. But the film is not nearly as revealing or important as its predecessor, which is what made Borat such a success. The bottom line is, see this movie. It’s impossible not to have a strong reaction to it, and the issues that it raises – however feebly – are important ones to discuss. In fact, perhaps the fact that Baron Cohen was unable to obtain more direct examples of homophobia is itself significant. Is homophobia that much of a repressed issue that no one will admit to it despite the fact that gay marriage is illegal nearly countrywide? Perhaps matters like this – which Brüno hints at without really delving into – are what make this film most fascinating.

1 comment:

  1. You should be writing movie reviews for the NYT. Only problem is, your reviews are much better than theirs. I couldn't agree more with this review, and I particularly like your ending. I hadn't even begun to think of why it wasn't as "successful" as Borat, but I think you make a really good point about Bruno dealing with a much more repressed topic in American society. Bravo.