Sunday, 26 July 2009


Plundering his back catalogue (meow) of characters for the big screen has yielded Sacha Baron Cohen mixed results. Kind of like the attire sported by his latest creation, Brüno, the results have been outrageous, colourful, memorable and offensive, even if, curiously, his best creation, Ali G, didn’t translate to cinemas successfully at all.

Following on the heels of Kazakhstan patriot Borat is the gay Austrian fashionista, for who outrageous is too slight a description. Taking the candid camera, mockudrama concept not one but a hundred steps further into the extreme, Brüno is simply so ridiculous that it very often touches the realm of the sublime.

Whereas the moustachioed, well-intentioned Borat was a somewhat sinister and creepily plausible klutz, Brüno is Cohen’s most OTT creation yet, giving its creator a get-out clause in a sense: when the character is this extreme, you can’t help but laugh – and laugh even more at the people being set up for the fall.

Cohen’s greatest enemy now of course isn’t audience apathy but the fame he has generated for himself. The comedian’s face is now more recognisable than prior to Borat’s release and he has to work three times as hard to make his gaffes work. Of course, all this serves to push the film into more ribald territory.

Following the collapse of his TV show Funkyzeit after an aborted gatecrash of Milan Fashion Week, Brüno leaves his pygmy lover (seen in a series of outrageously explicit clinches at the film’s start) and make it big in Hollywood. Keen to become ‘the biggest Austrian star since Hitler’ and ‘the gayest since Schwarzenegger’, along the way, Brüno has an epiphany of sorts: Hollywood’s successful leading men (including Kevin Spacey) are straight. The mesh-shirted Austrian realises that the key to American success may lie down the heterosexual route...

Cohen’s film makes pertinent political points in amongst all the hilarious so-called sexual ‘deviancy’ by highlighting middle America’s very problem with sexuality in its own right (a great number of Brüno’s targets seem to become angry simply on the reveal that he is homosexual). After the more scattershot (but also more spontaneous) Borat, it’s refreshing to see a more direct message in force here, even if the film does feel more scripted and essentially ‘Hollywood’.

While it’s all to easy to anger Americans by singing an opposing national anthem in the middle of a rodeo as he did previously, here Cohen has done his homework, digging out some more unnerving dupes. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, aspiring parents of hopeful celebrity babies are put through the wringer, being asked if their children are comfortable with lit phosphorous or going seatbelt-less on a speeding motorbike. All of them answer yes with assuredly straight faces.

Elsewhere he baits an all-black audience on a low rent talk show with his adopted black child OJ (‘Madonna’s got one, Angelina’s got one…’); their reaction to what unfolds at the end of the interview, is what’s most telling. Sometimes Cohen forgoes any kind of message in favour of pure shock value, giving invisible fellatio to Milli Vanilli (the film’s most explicit scene, even though everything is imagined) and gate crashing a swingers party in full, erm, swing. This is where, more-so that Borat, Brüno will divide most; it’s certainly more confrontational and full-on, Cohen stooping to astonishing heights of bravery in order to goad his targets. As awful as Bruno is though, it's just impossible to take him seriously... Isn't it?

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