When you look at the long line of working comedians in the business today, there are very few that are truly edgy. There are those who use shocking language to try to be edgy; there are those who are just who they are, and there are those who target the family demographic. None of these approaches are right or wrong, every person who decides to take a certain role or hit the stage with their material works it to their particular strengths. However, when it comes to Sacha Baron Cohen, the rules are rewritten. Love him, hate him, indifferent to hm, he is a distinctly original voice on the screen taking risks no one else is willing to do. On top of that, he is not only about the comedy, he is also about picking at society's scabs, revealing the uglier side: the side people would probably rather not show.
Cohen made a splash in 2006 with Borat, instantly winning a spot in the pantheon of popular culture. To this day, you can get a taste of that ridiculous voice wherever you go. Sure, it has died down somewhat, but will it ever go away? I doubt it. That film saw Cohen begin his cultural scab picking, unveiling latent bigotry, backwards thinking, and a large dose of negativity. It spotlighted Cohen's skills to get under the skin and provoke a reaction. This new film focuses on a different character that is quite possibly more shocking, but also a bit less funny. Still, you will find yourself wracked with laughter, so long as you are not among the easily offended.
Bruno (Cohen) is an Austrian fashionista, disgraced when his show flops. Amid some over the top gay sequences (calculated to get a rise out of the audience), we follow Bruno on his way to America where he is determined to become a big star. The problem is that his ideas on how to become famous, famously backfire as he takes everything to the edge and then jumps off into the abyss, shocking everyone in sight.
The movie is a series of vignettes strung together by scripted pieces featuring Bruno and his shy admirer Lutz, his assistant's assistant back in Austria. The overall story is thin as it really isn't the point. The point is to see just how far they can take each scene, take to its shocking limit and see what kind of reaction can be provoked.
Bruno is sporadically uproariously funny as we watch the comedian take aim at the celeb-worshiping, stardom-obsessed side of our culture. Watch as he holds a casting call for babies to do a photo shoot with his newly adopted third-world child (for whom he he swapped an iPod). The prospective parents are asked to agree to anything: working with pyrotechnics, loosing wait, dressing as a Nazi, and being tied to a cross. It is almost too much to believe. Also witness his attempts to make a sex tape by cornering presidential nominee Ron Paul. Utterly ridiculous and featuring more male nudity than your average Judd Apatow feature.
I am really at a loss about what to say about the movie. To describe more of the sequences would deprive them of their shock value. The story is pretty much non-existent, existing only to string together the awkward situations and add even more zaniness.
While I did laugh out loud a number of times, I found that much of my laughter was of the nervous variety. It is not that I was offended, but what Cohen was doing was so over the top that I was shocked more than amused. In the end, the movie does what it sets out to do, generate laughs, pick at the dark side of the audience by making them complicit in the generation of humor, and just being shocking.
Sacha Baron Cohen is an interesting character. On one hand, he truly pushes the boundaries of good taste and is absolutely fearless in his pursuit of the laugh, especially if it exposes some undesirable element on the part of the target. However, as brave as he is in going for the gusto, does his brand of comedy have an expiration date? How much longer will he be able to go unrecognized? I suspect this will be the last round for this sort of Cohen film. Unless he brings on a protege, I suspect we will begin to see more roles like his performance in Talladega Nights.
Bottomline. Bruno is not for everyone, although I think everyone should make the attempt. It will make you uncomfortable, it will make you laugh, it will make you wonder if Cohen has a mental issue. It will also make your jaw drop seeing the reactions and responses that he gets throughout. It is a bizarre film made by a brave soul. Try it. You may like it…. or not.