Universal. 8 July 2009
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten and Clifford Banagale.
Directed by Larry Charles. 90 mins.
Rated MA 15+.
A ragbag of a film, a lucky (and sometimes unlucky) dip of jokes, spoofs and critique. It is also, intentionally, a ratbag of a film. Sacha Baron Cohen has made a career of out creating ratbags, Ali G and Borat and, now, Bruno (with an umlaut).
While Borat set out to interview a range of people, to upset many of them, especially Americans, with Bruno the interviews come later. With a huge advertising campaign behind the film, most people would have heard of or seen the eccentric posters and ads for Bruno, so it won't be much of a surprise to discover that he is an (allegedly) nineteen year old Austrian TV show host, flamboyantly gay, who has probably never heard of or thought of a closet. He has an overwhelming desire to be famous, world-famous. After getting fired from his media job, off he goes to Milan (where he disrupts a fashion show) and then to Los Angeles to become a celebrity. (There's one thing about Sacha Baron Cohen's personas, they do actually become celebrities whether they are from Kazakstan or Austria - and they do go on world tours and they do upstage people and they make up outrageous stories even about the Australian prime minister. However, a momentary episode with Harrison Ford may well sum up many people's attitude to Bruno.
Bruno is at its funniest in some verbal jokes and some slapstick. And some of it is funny.
But, then there is the matter of good taste. Anyone who prides themself on their good taste or is fastidious should probably keep as far away from Bruno, both person and film, as possible. There is plenty to offend. By taking on the camp persona, Bruno pushes gay jokes as far as possible, verbally, visually and in mime. This comes to a critical climax where Bruno is pretending to be the straightest man on earth and is hosting a TV show, Straight Dayes, with macho wrestlers and on stage-bimbos and mouthing heterosexual cliches to the redneck applause of his audience both male and female. Then he pulls a trick on them with his assistant coming on stage and showing that this straight Bruno is not all that he is pretending to be. We are shown a bullish crowd of homophobes, satirised without their realising it - one presumes that this was a set up and the audience were not in the know. If they were in the know, they do a pretty good job of anti-gay attitudes and behaviour. This is the critique side of the film. And so on.
It is hard to tell whether the interviews were set up or scripted and pre-arranged. Paula Abdul's looks planned. On old US senator, Ron Paul, trapped in a room with a coming-on Bruno looks like a set up with a victim. The main set up, with Madonna and Angelina Jolie as targets, is the adoption of a black baby from Africa (who is called OJ) so that Bruno can become a celebrity. When Bruno and OJ appear on a TV chat show, hosted by Richard Bey, with a mainly African American audience, Bruno plays the character as far as he can to the obvious disgust of the audience. Playing fair or not to make a point about celebrity and power? The film runs for under 90 minutes and concludes with one of those 'We are the people' cause songs, with satiric words that befit the tone of the film - only this time in the studio, playing and singing with Bruno, are the real Bono, Elton John, Sting, Chris Martin, Slash and Snoop Dog (who has the lyric about Bruno that he is 'the white Obama'!). So there we are - or not!