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Bruno Is Hilarious, But Is It Art or Just Homophobic Smut?

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It’s pretty much impossible to argue that Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno isn’t funny. The reviews have been pretty favorable, but it’s my guess that if you found the most negative critic of Baron Cohen’s “if you weren’t uncomfortable at some point then you aren’t human” follow-up to his hit movie Borat and somehow went back in time and filmed this reviewer as he watched it, you’d certainly catch him laughing his way all the way to his irate disapproval. Had he still been alive, Jerry Falwell would have marched out of the movie theater in non-stop hysterics even as he dialed up his friends at the FCC trying to get the film banned.

When we stop laughing, it's perhaps time to ask ourselves the following: Is Baron Cohen a genius satirist or has he just been rewarded for being the first person in history to out-smut John Waters? I lean towards satirist, but one truly has to admit that Baron Cohen’s empire has largely been built on the recognition that most Americans start acting like three-year-olds when a penis is introduced into the equation. For the most part, this feature of the male anatomy has been pretty much kept under wraps. Kevin Bacon showed a glimpse of his for maybe a half a second in Wild Things, and even that was a big deal. If a woman pulls out a breast on a local bus, it’s the start of a party. If a man pulls out his penis, it’s time to call 911.

It’s hard to gauge whether Bruno should be viewed as a statement supporting homosexuality or a prime example of blatantly homophobic stereotyping — mostly because it’s so clearly both. There’s a large portion of society that finds the notion of two men rolling around on top of each other incredibly hilarious. You could argue that the laughter is there to cover up some unseemly, secret leanings, but I find it mostly true that there are tons of straight males out there with absolutely no problems with homosexuality who find nothing funnier than the notion of men having sex with other men. Toss in a midget and a bunch of sexual gags that make Benny Hill seem sophisticated and there you are, laughing and praying that you don't some day wind up in hell as a result. Howard Stern has made a small fortune mining this territory, and is extremely popular within the gay community for two reasons: he’s always spoken out in favor of gay issues, and the gay community has, for the most part, an appreciative camp sense of humor about itself.

My guess is that most gays viewing Bruno will enjoy watching everyone else’s discomfort at Baron Cohen’s often nude slapstick. It’s a hang-up they just don’t have. Baron Cohen’s last hit movie Borat featured an extended naked fight scene between himself and the morbidly obese Ken Davitian. It’s easily the funniest scene in any movie of the past 25 years. The fight is perfectly choreographed to make nearly every position the two sword-fighting comedians wind up in an overtly sexual one. It’s brilliant slapstick, but in the end it’s just two naked guys rolling around a hotel room, and if you want to argue that it is hardly Swiftian-like satire, I’ll agree with you as long as you admit that it’s drop dead hilarious, and Bruno features a call-back to that scene that is nearly just as funny.

Bruno does a good job of parodying the average American’s unease with flamboyant gay activity, but I’d be hard pressed to argue that this was its true intent. I’m not a redneck, but if anyone woke me up in the middle of the night stark naked, claiming that a bear ate all of his possessions except for two unused condoms, I’d be pretty freaked out too.

Sure, Ron Paul runs out of Bruno’s hotel room calling him a queer after Baron Cohen disrobes and makes his character’s intentions to make a sex tape blatantly known, but frankly, who wouldn’t? Sean Penn starred in Milk, and if Baron Cohen had pulled this on Penn, the exact same thing would have happened.

Interviewing Paula Abdul as she sits on a man who looks a bit undocumented is brilliant, but then again who didn't already know that Paula Abdul was obliviously nuts?

In the end, Bruno really doesn’t really say much about America other than that nearly every last one of us has some heebee jeebies about penises and gay sex. If you ignore all the debate about what it all means, a few things about Baron Cohen’s talent remain. The man is absurdly fearless in a way perhaps only Andy Kauffman could ever have dreamed about; he’s taken the ability to create vibrant, fully-formed, comic characters to the next level; and without a doubt he deserves a special Oscar for being able to simulate four minutes or so of fellatio on the dead half of Milli Vanilli in front of a psychic and not once come close to doing what everyone in the audience is guilty of — busting a gut.

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