Movie Review: Bruno

Bruno, the gay Alpine protagonist of his own drama, states that his goal is to become “the most famous Austrian since Hitler,” and “the most famous gay Austrian since Schwarzenegger.” Quick – try naming another Austrian. Celebrity Nazi amnesiac Kurt Waldheim? Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music?

The film has just opened, so well have to hold judgment on Brunos fame beyond the talk show circuit – but one of the comedys real triumphs is to leave no one unmocked, from homosexuals, Hasidic Jews, Hollywood C-listers, celebrity adoptions, to Michael Jackson. The only thing this campy odyssey of a film seems to be missing is a confrontation with Don Rickles, or with a now-minor celebrity like George W. Bush, who seems too irrelevant to be skewered.

Bruno made me laugh even more than Borat, which I saw in Toronto two years ago before knowing anything about the film. On the qualitative scale, it offends many more constituencies than Borat did. Maybe thats also because Sacha Baron Cohen has discovered a major truth about America – if you cant become famous on your own merits, just find that right charity, or the ubiquitous Lizzie Grubman-type agent, to get you lots of publicity. Or, you can just adopt an African baby.


Bruno and baby

Bruno, it should be noted, traded an iPod for his adopted baby, named OJ. One of the films insane moments comes when he announces and defends this to an all-black audience on Richard Beys talk show, itself a poster child (forgive the pun) for bad taste. The subtext here hints that, as Marcel Duchamp put it, taste is just a habit. How can you object to Bruno if you have Richard Bey and Jerry Springer offering a daily forum for anyone who wants to be taped talking about having sex with his aunt and uncle?

My predictions – an Oscar nomination for Cohen for Best Actor, and an Oscar for Best Makeup for this queer-face comedy.

Ive liked director Larry Charless films ever since Masked and Anonymous, the inscrutable fable written by and starring Bob Dylan, which premiered at Sundance in 2003 and disappeared in the marketplace when Sony Pictures Classics released it later that year. Charles, who directed Seinfeld, has been eager in his movies to take on all sorts of sacred cows, and thats more than a pun on his 2008 attack on religion (spearheaded by Bill Maher) in Religulous, which also made more of a mark with the critics and timorous pre-release pundits than it did with the public.


Bruno and horse

In Bruno, some of the best satirical moments about the celebrity pantheon that Bruno aspires to enter come in the Austrians encounters with stars like Paula Abdul (who demurs at sitting on a worker who, putting his leaf-blower aside, bends over to be her chair) and D-lister LaToya Jackson (who plays along with the game a bit longer). Was La Toya paid? Part of the joke here is that the scene is a booby-trap cluster-bomb of political correctness, all of which could backfire in our vain striving heros face – which is why we laugh. You just wish he had gotten to Sarah Palin, though Cohen does blow the lid off perennial president candidate Ron Pauls libertarianism when Paul runs out a room where hes met Bruno, yelling, “hes QUEER!”


Bruno and friends

I was lucky enough to have seen that LaToya scene and all the references to Michael Jackson before some of those references were excised, Im told, from the version of Bruno that is in theaters. Dont worry, theyll be on the DVD soon enough. Even Cohen and Charles (and especially their distributor) found that there really might be such a thing as bad taste, i.e., that making jokes about the recently deceased might hurt you in the heartland. Too bad. The Michael Jackson tribute made the Ronald Reagan funeral seem like one hand clapping.

This reluctance to mock the deceased sets the Bruno crowd and just about everyone else apart from Bill OReilly of Fox News. Since before Jacksons body cooled, OReilly has been hammering away at Jackson for being a “child molester” and even questioned the judgment of Jacksons African-American fans for mourning the death of a black entertainer who turned his skin white and adopted white children. (Should we then also wonder about OReillys fans, who watch the angry moralizers nightly rant, even though OReilly settled a claim by a co-worker who said hed sexually harassed?)

The shameless Bruno is still a commercial movie that cant offend too many potential customers, and Fox News works best when it rallies the base – youll see some of them wearing “Straight Pride” t-shirts in the films bacchanal of a crescendo.

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