Much has been written declaring Brüno a new high for vulgarity. Its funniest scenes – ones that will leave your mouth agape and your eyes glassy – involve a creatively sexual use of an exercise bike, Brüno’s beyond passionate reunion with Milli Vanilli’s late Rob Pilatus with the help of a psychic, and a foray into a swinger’s party that often threatens to half-fill the screen with censored bits of blurriness.
And I can understand where the critics are coming from and why they are going there. I too feel the need to warn my readers. My own sensibilities are far from sensitive and yet even I was often watching this tale of a flaming gay male Euro-model – portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen who I am now convinced is a comic genius – with blinking disbelief. Was I really seeing what I was seeing?
Consider those first two paragraphs as your warning. If gay sex and over-the-top caricatures of homophobia at its ugliest aren’t, shall I say, your cup of tea, then you may want to skip this one. I know one dad who walked out in disgust. His teenage boys stuck around though and had a blast.
But I’ve now spilled enough of ink of my own on that topic. I’d rather describe how this latest collaboration between Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles (they previously created Borat) is a step forward. While their previous effort was all over the place, anything for a laugh, this is focused and while I never felt much for Borat, I found Brüno very appealing and his story quite moving.
After losing his modeling career in Germany thanks to an ill-advised fashion statement – making clothing entirely out of Velcro is not a good idea – Brüno heads to Los Angeles to find himself and become a super-famous worldwide celebrity. And down the yellow brick road he goes.
He fails to get work as an actor. He even fails as an extra. So he creates his own show. Undaunted when his impromptu attempt to interview Harrison Ford only elicits two words (I’ll let you guess which two), he decides to fill the remaining time with creative shots of his genitalia. One of the focus group members wonders: “What kind of sick person would create something like that?”
Brüno decides that maybe a better way to become super-famous would be to solve the conflicts in the Middle East. So, again, away he goes. The first sign of trouble is when he checks a map and refers to the region as “Middle Earth.” By the time he’s chased back to the United States, tail between his legs, one is doubtful he could even bring peace between hobbits and elves.
He then notices that all male super-famous worldwide celebrities such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta have one thing in common: they are all straight. (I know. Not what I expected either.) This takes him down his most harrowing path. I’m not sure which made me feel more uncomfortable, or fearful, his entering the military, his going hunting and tent camping with three rednecks, or his strutting about pretending to be the ultimate macho man in front of a crowd of drunk trailer trash.
That we do fear for Brüno and feel for him makes the ending completely satisfying. We want him to find love and happiness. We just want to shake him as he looks for these things in all the wrong places. We breathe a sigh of relief – even as we cringe with one last fear for his life – when we finally see him seek happiness by simply being himself.