21 07 2009

Borat was so 2006.

So. I saw “Brüno” the other night. Does the film test the limits of good taste? Certainly so. Does Sacha Baron Cohen prove capable of sustaining his outrageous cult of personality? Maybe. Does his movie expand the boundaries of comedy? Not really. All in all, declining returns.

Time.com supposes that “Brüno” may have been adversely impacted by Twitter, the latest interweb distraction. Although it drew the top spot of the domestic box office (with slightly over $30 million), it endured a staggering 40% dropoff in attendence from Friday to Saturday, according to Variety.com.

If Time’s assessment is correct, then this severly shifts the dynamic of movie marketing. What used to take several days to circulate among friends by word-of-mouth, is now distributed immediately. How does a studio protect itself against such a threat?

The answer(s) for now: It doesn’t because it can’t. I had read (and heard) of instances of audiences walking out on Brüno. With the emergence of Twitter, moviegoers may restain themselves from purchasing a ticket in the first place.

I’m willing to laugh even at the most ridiculous images, and “Brüno” has these in abundance. Indeed, some of its most graphic scenes arrive within the opening minutes.


Brüno employs not-too-subtle interview techniques.

Unlike its predecessor “Borat,” “Brüno” possesses a mean-spirited jag that didn’t sit quite right with me. Whereas Borat was played as largely unaware and naïve, Cohen uses Brüno to poke at people until they react; it’s as if Cohen is either impatient or unwilling to permit jokes to sufficiently gestate: the comedic equivalent of bothering a hornet’s nest with a stick.

One scene depicts Brüno (and his woefully unprepared agent) screening a pilot before an audience of about a half-dozen middle-aged men (and one woman). After his footage is universally panned, Brüno enters the screening room to confront them (to their credit, none of them retract their criticism).

What does Cohen hope to achieve by doing this? He embarrasses his agent by claiming that the most offensive pieces (no pun intended) were his agent’s idea; he insults the test audience by claiming that they don’t recognize “art” when they see it; and he forces the plot of the film by drawing upon the comment cards provided by the screeners (after he’s told them they know nothing).

“Brüno” will not change minds (or hearts), because Cohen often insults others on-screen. Rather than give interviewees “enough rope with which to hang themselves,” Cohen attempts to elicit inappropriately humorous replies. In one scene, Brüno offers that the man across from him (a Southern pastor attempting to “convert” Brüno from homosexuality) has perfect “blow job lips.”

Will this movie hurt or help a homosexual agenda? Closed-minded persons can rest (relatively) easy, because “Brüno” employs such a cartoonish characterization of homosexuality that most viewers will either dismiss or deride it.

But what do I know? Queerty.com posts:

“Bruno doesn’t need to be a finely tuned teaching moment; that’s asking too much of mainstream cinema fare. But the film let’s us laugh with and at stereotypes. It’s a pornographic enterprise into America’s remaining taboos. If the film starts even one conversation about “how wrong” all of that is, it’s a success — and, dare we suggest, something we should support.”

And Out editor Aaron Hicklin stated on CNN:

“You’d really have to be quite dense and idiotic to think this is was in any way an accurate reflection of the way gay men live their lives.”

Of course, Out‘s most recent issue interviews Cohen as Brüno, which raises the question of journalistic intent. Does Out mean to participate in the marketing and cultural distribution of “Brüno?” Or does the magazine hope to introduce, and possibly advance, a legitimate dialogue concerning homophobia (as depicted in the movie)?

My opinion is that Cohen’s act is purposefully stereotypical but not maliciously so. Of course, one assumes (including Cohen) that the audience is “in” on the joke, and, as seen in “Brüno” itself, not everyone is. One should view “Brüno” with a measure of self-awareness and restraint; if you can watch it without becoming naseous or taking offense, then you’re probably okay.