September Issue 2009

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 15 years ago

If Borat exposed the xenophobia of Americans, thenBrüno, British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up to his surprise mega-hit, should show the homophobia of the US. The eponymous character is a flamboyant gay Austrian televison host, who bats his eyelashes, purses his lips and holds himself in extremely high regard. In short, he checks off every gay stereotype.

Brüno is, in just about every way, a weaker movie than Borat. Where the latter sought to educate along with shock, Brüno exists only to make everyone as uncomfortable as possible. Whether he’s doing a Nazi salute in Israel or flirting awkwardly (and trying to make a sex tape) with 70-something politician Ron Paul, there seems no point to Cohen’s satire. His aim may have been to scandalise those he interviews and show them to be bigots. But the politeness of his respondents makes that moot.

Occasionally, Brüno strives for a higher purpose, such as his detour to convince the Israelis and Palestinians that they can agree on at least one thing: that hummus is a tasty and nutritous food. That task is fulfilled easily enough but seemed ultimately pointless, as it was neither funny nor meaningful.

Brüno is further hurt by the fame Sacha Baron Cohen has earned in the past few years. He is no longer a merry mischief-maker, the outsider pointing an accusatory finger at the emptiness of Hollywood. He is now firmly ensconced in the celebrity culture, as shown by a mock music video at the end of the movie that features Sting, Snoop Dogg and other stars, all of whom are in on the joke. This celebrity status surely further contributed to the failure of the film as the politicans who have given interviews to Cohen for his television series Da Ali G. Showand Borat would, being aware of the comedian’s modus operandi, no longer have made themselves available.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Brüno panders more than it enlightens. For a movie that seeks to shine a light on homophobia, Brüno sure makes an awful lot of gay jokes, capitalising on every stereotype of limp wrists and girly voices. There was an element of this in Borat as well, which had as many gags at the expense of the naive Kazakh as it did about redneck Southerners and vacuous Californians. But Brüno tips the scales in favour of bad taste and anti-gay vulgarity. The joke, this time, is not on the objects of Brüno’s scorn but on the audience itself.

Sacha Baron Cohen poses as Bruno.

Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.