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Brown Tweed Reviews: Brüno

July 18, 2009

THIS REVIEW DOES NOT REVEAL ANY MAJOR SPOILERS.

Sacha Baron Cohen can’t keep doing this forever. The comic has to have very nearly come close to the point where the entire country – nay, the world – is in on his joke, saturating the entertainment landscape so much that he may be hard-pressed to pull such shenanigans on an unsuspecting public again. And definitely not as Austrian fashionista Brüno or Kazakh reporter Borat. That has to be a sad moment for a comedian – the moment he realizes his baby’s all grown up and left the house. In fact, Baron Cohen may see Brüno as his guerilla-comedy swan song.

Good thing, then, that he goes out with a bang, simultaneously pushing all the buttons he can muster. Make no mistake about it; Brüno is flimsy at best as a cohesive film. But Baron Cohen’s work isn’t about cohesiveness. It’s about the reveal. And boy, does he.

Long-time fans of Baron Cohen’s work, which introduced the Brüno character on the British-hit Da Ali G Show, will immediately recognize that the flamboyantly gay European is far-removed from his Eastern Bloc cousin Borat. While Borat’s innocence and eagerness lured his targets into an authoritative feeling of safety, Brüno is a markedly different creature altogether – wily, pushy and with an agenda.

The very things which make Brüno a different character also make Brüno a much different movie from Borat, though the mechanics of the humor share a common ground. It also makes the character more difficult to love; whereas Baron Cohen always placed the Borat character beneath his subjects, he places Brüno in a position to lead and dominate them, which isn’t always as fun.

A loose plotline runs throughout the movie, which has the fashion guru deposed and blacklisted after a faux pas during Milan’s hoity-toity Fashion Week and following him as he sets upon a quest to become an American celebrity. I won’t divulge any of the details of said quest here – as most of Baron Cohen’s fun lies in the surprise of his set-ups – but expect a lot of squirming audience discomfort and full-frontal male nudity. In close-up.

As a film, Brüno is at its best when it takes place among our own neighbors; early scenes taking place in Hollywood feel more winking and aren’t nearly as fun as the latter third of the film, when the character sets out across the nation to “become straight” and exposing the homophobia of his marks. Sorely lacking for the most part, however,  are the divine moments familiar to fans of the HBO program, wherein Baron Cohen exposes the hypocrisy and aloofness of the fashion industry, which is disappointing.

The most amazing accomplishment of Baron Cohen’s characters is the way each of them, in his own very unique way, is able to draw the greatest humor from any situation. While Brüno may lack Borat’s Harpo Marx-esque interactions with his subjects, he deliberately provokes them more than the wide-eyed Borat ever could. Baron Cohen, like his fellow countryman Peter Sellers before him, is the rarest of humorists – he isn’t just making the joke, he’s making the statement.  As a result, he straddles the line between comedy and performance art, but the result is rarely less than ingenious in its conception – for art or comedy.

While Brüno may lack the rollicking, what’s-next fun of Borat, it’s still as high-concept and intelligent as comedy gets in 2009; and Baron Cohen remains the crown prince of the deceptive rug-pull. Though the film lags from time to time, particularly in the moments that feel particularly staged, Brüno soars as a smart, clever comedy. As an artist, however, the most intriguing thing left to consider as the credits roll on Brüno is the most exciting: where can, and will, Baron Cohen go from here?

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