Bruno Goes Where No Comedy Has Gone Before
- Christian Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2009 10 Jul
DVD Release Date: November 17, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: July 10, 2009
Rating: R (for pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language)
Run Time: 1 hr. 22 min.
Director: Larry Charles
Actors: Sascha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Clifford Bannagale, Chibundo Orukwowo, Chigozie Orukwowo, Josh Meyers
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following critique references adult subject matter and contains explicit descriptions of objectionable material depicted in the film being reviewed. Parents, please exercise caution before allowing children to read.
Last year's boisterous comedy Tropic Thunder thrived by mocking the absurdities of Hollywood celebrity culture, but in one jarring scene late in the film, the dialogue becomes bluer than blue. Jack Black's drug-deprived character, who has asked to be restrained so as to prevent him from getting his fix, bargains with his costars to untie him and allow him to satisfy his cravings. In explicit detail, he describes a certain sexual act he's willing to perform on his male friends if only they release him. The dialogue is vivid and extreme—the words of a desperate man willing to do anything to feed his addiction.
The sexual shock comedy that made for one startling scene in Tropic Thunder forms the basis for the feature-length comedy Brüno. The film, written by and starring Sascha Baron Cohen (Borat) in the title role, multiplies the vivid dialogue and adds several moments of explicit sexual imagery in telling its comic tale of a gay Austrian TV host who wants to conquer America's entertainment complex.
Cohen's previous film, Borat, featured a sexually crazed main character who wanted to marry Pamela Anderson, but Brüno takes the sexual dimension of this latest Cohen creation to new limits. Brüno is proudly out of the closet, and the movie is as much an examination of how different Americans react to his often outrageous language and mannerisms as it is a depiction of one flamboyant gay man's quest to be a star.
Brüno is happily hosting his own TV show and living with a young boyfriend in Austria when a fashion-runway mishap leads to his dismissal. He leaves behind his boyfriend and their sexual escapades (which are depicted in one eye-popping sequence) and heads for America, determined to take the country by storm by following the path of other successful U.S. celebrities. Along for the journey is Brüno's assistant's assistant, Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), who longs to be Brüno's romantic partner.
Brüno is much more interested in being a media sensation, but a series of missteps hinder his mission. He tries to become an actor, but his exhibitionism isn't a good fit for someone relegated to being an extra (his repeated efforts to stand out as an extra in the TV show Medium constitute one of the film's best—and relatively cleanest—moments), and a pilot TV show hosted by Brüno that features images of a talking penis is harshly rejected. He visits a psychic in hopes he'll hear of imminent career success, and ends up performing imagined fellatio on the called-up spirit of a former pop-music star. An interview with Paula Abdul goes awry, and his attempt to proposition Ron Paul only angers the Texas politician.
Following the lead of Angelina Jolie and Madonna, he adopts a black baby (Chibundo Orukwowo and Chigozie Orukwowo) from Africa and stuffs him into a suitcase for a trip to his new home in the United States. Later, he riles a talk-show audience with his views on alternative parenting of the child, whom he proudly labels a "gayby."
Brüno concludes that only straight men can succeed in the States. His attempted transformation involves counseling from a minister and another counselor who advises him to spend more time with straight men. A resulting hunting trip is the film's comedic high point, but a visit to a "swingers party" is little more than thinly disguised pornography, as the "swingers" are shown engaging in various sex acts (sex organs and penetration images are blacked out in the film), supplemented by running commentary from Brüno, who watches the heterosexual intercourse with intense interest.
The Bible repeatedly condemns sexual immorality and impurity (1 Corinthians 6:13, 1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 10:8; Colossians 3:5 among many others). The behavior of Brüno and others in the film clearly qualifies, but the movie, of course, has no interest in biblical admonitions apart from using them as further fodder for the film's humor. Brüno's ministerial counseling session is about as serious as Borat's trip to the Pentecostal church—designed to make the Christians look ridiculous (although these scenes could be crueler than they are).
Is the film funny? Very much so at times, but as with all comedies built on outrageous gags, Brüno goes too far—in this case, way too far. It goes beyond previous limits for this type of film and, especially in the "swingers" scene, further pushes pornography into the mainstream of our culture and expands the boundaries of what can be depicted in an "R"-rated feature. There are a few laughs along the way, but a larger cost to be paid. One can only imagine what further images and behaviors will comprise future "outrageous" comedies now that Brüno has lowered the bar.
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- Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; tons of bad language, including the "f" word and all sorts of sexually explicit dialogue; "queer" used several times to describe the openly gay Bruno; "s" word; a baby listens to profane hip-hop music through headphones; the child's shirt labels him a "Gayby"; the child is shown in photos as a mock Jesus on a cross, then in a hot tub with other men, then in the same location while two of the men engage in a sex act; several references to oral sex; "bitch"; Bruno says a gospel presentation was "really hot" and later refers to the pastor as "Reverend BJ."
- Smoking/Drinking: Bruno pours a drink for one of his interview subjects; says he doesn't have enough Ecstasy for everyone; he appears to snort something off a musician's shoulder.
- Sex/Nudity: In general, all manners of frontal and rear nudity are shown; a costume has appendages dangling from the groin area; scene of waxing (rear) at a salon; a naked man is used as a serving table for snack food; several seconds of footage of male, lower frontal nudity and low-angle shots of Bruno dancing in skimpy underwear as part of a TV show pilot; an extended shot of Bruno performing simulated sex acts on the imagined ghost of a male music star; several scenes of sex toys being handled; a sequence where Bruno and his boyfriend show different male-sex games; Bruno attends a "swingers" party, featuring several scenes of men and women engaged in sex acts (genitals are blacked out in these scenes, but still very explicit); a demonstration of various sexual positions; two men undress each other in front of a crowd and start kissing.
- Violence/Crime: Discussion of a picture of a fetus leads to the conclusion that the baby should be aborted; as part of Middle East peace negotiations, Bruno advises two men not to kill each other, but to shoot a Christian instead; circumstances behind Bruno's adoption of an African baby are murky; a mother agrees to put her child through extreme acts like liposuction if it can guarantee the child's role in a photo shoot, including a shot of a Nazi baby pushing a Jewish baby into an oven; Bruno is whipped and falls through a window; women's outer garments are ripped off before an extreme-fighting cage match.
- Religion: Bruno and another man walk past an anti-gay group while nude; a pastor advises Bruno to accept Christ and leave behind any behaviors that might remind him of his homosexual lifestyle; pastor presents the gospel to Bruno and counsels him to leave his homosexual lifestyle.