How will you know if Bruno is your type of film? Answer this question. How do you feel about a running gag involving an exercise bike converted for use as a super-dildo? Funny? Or obnoxiously revolting?
Compared to Sacha Baron Cohen’s breakthrough in Borat three years ago, Bruno is more outlandish, more perverse, more obvious, more rambling, more gag-oriented, more unfocused, much more outrageous, about as hysterical, maybe even more so, and missing a certain sweetness. It will be interesting to see how it plays to gay audiences – whether it is condemned or championed.
That’s because Bruno is a gay stereotype taken to extremes, like a comic version of Shaft for homosexuals. This comic creation is a truly flaming Austrian fashion show host who comes to Los Angeles with the sole goal of ascending to stardom. His European flamboyance confronts and exposes the real and semi-real Americans that he meets in his travels. In England they refer to this as the art of “taking the piss.”
That approach, of course, is a repeat of the tactics of Borat. While there is a certain sense of easy targeting that keeps both films from being decisive social commentary (homoerotic clenching at a ultimate fighting venue is pretty easy material), they make consistently amusing set pieces.
There’s a certain game you play while watching Cohen’s films. I call it “Actor, Non-actor, or Playing Along.” The idea is to guess the status of any single “regular” American appearing. Some are normal people unknowingly confronted with the outrageous. Others are normal people aware they are in a movie and playing to the camera. A number of the apparently “real people” are probably scripted actors, I would guess. Do you really truly think that even the worst showbiz mom would swallow hard and let her toddler play a Nazi stuffing another baby into an oven? The result is a three-headed film. Occasionally you have to guess which film you are in.
Yet in its send-up of fame and its callous lack of taste, Bruno is profanely hilarious. His simulated imaginary fellatio on the dead member of Milli Vanilli in front of a shocked showbiz psychic is an unforgettably perverse gem. And just as you think the humor is running low on its gaydom, Bruno decides to go straight, which opens a whole ‘nother can. It’s a second wind for a film that seems to have seven of them.