In on the umlaut

Brüno (In Theatres)

What is Brüno, beyond the filthy/fabulous successor to Borat? Is the movie satire or aimless shock schlock?

Cohen is both brilliant and heartless, simultaneously making homophobia ridiculous and giving homophobes the ultimate gay clown to laugh at.

Brüno‘s narrative is thinner than a coked-out runway model. If you’ve seen Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, a funnier and better film, you already know the plot: A cartoonish ‘other’ leaves his usual environment with a devoted assistant in tow. They criss-cross America, encountering bigotry and idiocy that is hilarious and chilling, often simultaneously. Mayhem ensues.

Cohen loves putting people in awkward situations. The very few times he almost breaks character are during these most torturous encounters. He remarks, on a gay-curing camping trip with three of the reddest necks in Alabama, that the night sky “makes you think of all the hot guys in the world.” You can almost glimpse glee in his face as he twists that knife. Is it the righteous joy of a saboteur or just a sadist getting his fix? Whatever it is, it’s ballsy. How many of us would tell a terrorist, on his home turf, that “your King Osama looks like a dirty wizard”? (Panicked interpreter: “Leave! Now!”)

But what are people laughing at, Brüno’s ludicrous antics, or the grim folks he encounters? Take the crowd at the cage match and how they react to two men making out. Their dismay was hilarious; some looked horrified and others were frothing with rage. I was laughing at them, but maybe other folks in the audience were laughing at the kiss, in slow motion, with Celine Dion crooning away in the background. After all, the idea of two guys kissing is still funny to a large segment of the population.

Leaving the theatre, it reminded me that gay rights are in a similar place to race relations in America not that long ago. You know, White Heterosexual Man doesn’t have a problem with you as long as you don’t live in his neighbourhood or act too gay / black in his presence.

So, yeah, there’s fodder for serious thought in all this. Making hate laughable could be a powerful means to combat it… But then again, how many people will read Brüno that way? Is the trade-off worth it?

A friend of mine wasn’t so keen. “Fuck this shit,” was his conclusion. “It’s harmful.”

Michael Collins


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