Remember two-and-a-half years ago when, for about a month, everyone walked around saying “High five!” and “I like you!” in the accent of a dementedly cheery mid-eastern man-child? Well, as annoying as that whole ordeal was, it’s hard to deny that Borat, the movie and character created by Sacha Baron Cohen, was a radical and effective comedy/commentary on American stereotypes.
Today, Cohen unleashes BrÃ¼no, a film stylistically identical to Borat, with the only major difference being its concentration on homosexuals and homophobia instead of Arabs and other foreigners. But just like its predecessor, BrÃ¼no is outrageous, hilarious and effective.
If you’ve seen Borat, you probably know exactly what kind of movie BrÃ¼no is. Cohen takes the effeminant, sex-crazed stereotype that’s been applied to gay men for decades, and multiplies it by ten. This is made clear in the opening minutes of the film, in which the German fashion journalist BrÃ¼no has ridiculous sex with his pygmy boyfriend over and over again. Involved in the acts are an anally cradled bottle of champagne and an exercise bike/dildo combonation.
Although Cohen is undeniably hilarious in his zeal and dedication to blowing every gay stereotype out of the water, the focus of the film shifts from his antics to the reactions of the real-life people his character interacts with.
It might not surprise you to read this, but it turns out that a lot of America is homophobic, sometimes violently so – take note in the penultimate scene when the main players are protected from the public by a ten-foot-tall fence and barbed wire.
Cohen and his directer, Larry Charles, make some shocking finds with the camera. One scene shows a U.S. Congressman with a younger, more tolerant base of supporters insulting the BrÃ¼no character, damning him for being queer. Another shows BrÃ¼no on a talk show, after gaining applause and affection from a television show audience, actually being booed by that same audience when he reveals that he’s gay.
But I’d be lying if I said some scenes in the movie aren’t in there for nothing more than comedic effect – like when BrÃ¼no goes to a military boot camp and is only harassed by sergeants just as much as he would have been if he were normal and straight.
The film does make some mistakes – like in one scene where BrÃ¼no goes hunting with three southern, straight men. Although the identity of a southern man might conjure images of homophobia, these men – though thoroughly uncomfortable around BrÃ¼no’s different behavior – were clearly not going to say or do anything mean to BrÃ¼no just because he was gay. You can tell by the look in their eyes that they’re trying to be on their best behavior, even though Cohen is doing everything within his abilites to provoke a negative reaction from his subjects. Finally, when Cohen tries to get into one of the guys’ tents naked, they have enough and ask Cohen and his crew to leave.
It is a funny scene, but Cohen is asking us to laugh at and look down on these men for being uncomfortable, which I don’t think is that awful of a thing to be, especially when Cohen is consciously doing anything he can think of to make them want to tear him apart.
I took a gay friend to the movie, and he made a good point when he wished that BrÃ¼no could have just been gay, instead of hilariously gay. You can’t shun a person for not liking a loud, obnoxious, annoying and selfish gay man; you can if they don’t like a person just and only because they’re gay. BrÃ¼no might be funny, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for having little patience when having to deal with him in person.
It messes with Cohen’s thesis, but it doesn’t invalidate it. Though I might make complaints with some of the finer points of the film, it does expose homophobia in our culture that could never be seen in a fictional film. And, though his sense of humor might not be for everyone, it’s hard to deny that Cohen is a master of his craft, fearlessly pushing every button and pushing it over the line.