What exactly is the expected reaction to watching a gay man mime blowing a ghost? Part of it might depend on the technique or the ghost — one half of Milli Vanilli, for instance — but it’s safe to say that either you find that sort of thing amusing or you don’t. There are small gradations on either end of the reactionary spectrum, but very little middle ground. That’s the test you should use in deciding whether to see Brüno this weekend, Sacha Baron Cohen‘s follow up to his 2006 hit, Borat. Don’t try to trick yourself into thinking it’s not that shocking, because giving an apparition oral — talk about ectoplasm — is one of Brüno’s lesser offenses. Cohen’s new film, which traces Brüno’s journey to be “the most famous Austrian since Hitler” and “the gayest since Schwarzenegger,” surpasses his landmark Borat by trading guffaws for dropped jaws. Cohen’s disruptive, guerrilla anthropology will have you out of your seat, either laughing hysterically or leaving the theater.
Having been thrown off the A-list in Europe, the result of making a scene in an all-Velcro suit at a well-attended fashion show, Brüno heads west to Los Angeles to become a celebrity; in the “I’m here, look at me” way a la Paris Hilton. Losing his social status and his pocket Filipino boyfriend, Brüno experiences another setback when he arrives in the States and discovers that he’s a complete unknown. Using his bare ass to squeeze the lemons life has given him, Brüno makes lemonade and sets out to become famous. And what’s the usual first step toward one’s dream? Anal bleaching, of course.
The film is largely one salacious, jaw-dropping stanza after another. The first of which will make both gay and straight audiences alike sit in a bit of discomfort, literally. While there’s been much talk about how Brüno might play for or against the gay community and recent strides in equality, that’s pretty much a moot question. Brüno is obviously a gay character and he tethers himself to that world; but he stretches and frays that thread so much through frenetic flamboyance that he’s really his own sub-community — one characterized by an obsession with fashion, one’s self and everyone’s ass. Gays will probably enjoy the film most, to be sure, but it’s hard to imagine Brüno not being received in a strictly outrageous light.
Possibly more outlandish than Brüno’s antics, such as somehow arranging a flirtatious camp-out with three red-necks or giving the Nazi salute to the Alabama National Guard, are the sexual elements of the film. How it’s only rated R is actually pretty surprising. One way Brüno tries to become a celebrity is by turning himself straight and attending a swingers party — a scene made viewable in the theater by the sophisticated addition of strategically placed black boxes. And then there’s the scene that gives a new meaning to full-frontal, involving (presumably) a stand-in for Cohen. If it’s not a stand in, well then “hello, Sacha [wink].” The MPAA must be feeling generous this summer, because this type of exposure has rarely been seen in an R-rated film.
Beyond all the shock and awe, Cohen’s film is actually pretty damn genius. That he and his crew manage to stage such elaborate traps, and keep straight — well, gay — faces while doing it, is incredible. Cohen manages to dupe celebrities, politicians, intelligence officials, terrorists and an even an entire town. At the heart of Brüno are genuine reactions from real people; albeit exaggerated ones considering the circumstances. Nevertheless, Brüno is a fascinating and hysterical spectacle that, despite all the dress-up and sexual posturing, holds a center of absurd honesty. And that always makes for a good laugh, right? If not that, then a dildo attached to a stationary bike should.