Flamboyant Austrian fashionista Brüno takes his show to America.
Picture the scene: former Mossad agent Yossi Alpher and Palestinian academic Ghassam Khalib, two opposing figureheads in the ongoing Middle East conflict, sit in a conference room. But wait, they are agreeing, agreeing that…houmous is a sensible diet choice. A minute earlier they are both emphatically explaining to the oddly attired blonde fellow sitting between them that the chickpea-based condiment is not the same as the Islamist movement ‘Hamas’. After this culinary dilemma has been discussed, he decides, “Your conflict is not so bad. Jennifer-Angelina is worse”. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Brüno.
Many will be familiar with Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest cinematic incarnation, the flamboyant, narcissistic and often wildly inappropriate gay Austrian television presenter, who had until now appeared as a supporting character on Da Ali G Show. But where Baron Cohen’s 2006 smash hit Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan allowed blundering Borat to overtake the popularity of his famous Ali G, so his latest offering Brüno is certain to follow suit, with Bruno’s outlandish escapades across the globe eclipsing both predecessors in sheer offensive and hysterical humour alone.
Following the mockumentary format of Borat, Brüno travels across the world, desperate to reclaim the fame and acknowledgement he has lost since being fired from his presenting gig on Austrian cable channel ‘Funkyzeit’ (for ruining a Milan fashion show dressed in a suit made from Velcro – a stunt for which Cohen was arrested). He is desperate to become “the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler” and will stop at nothing to attain public attention. Baron Cohen certainly knows how to push buttons, his success largely based on the ability to exploit the fears and prejudices of those around him, and nowhere is it done better, or to such a sheer volume, than in Brüno.
In Alabama, already tried and tested territory for successful B.C. material, Brüno joins a group of redneck hunters on a camping and shooting trip. After keenly trying to convince them of his preference for women, he goes on to compare the assembled men to the Sex and the City girls, when one instantly protests he tells him “that is such a Samantha thing to say”. Later on he attempts to enter the tent of a sleeping comrade, armed with only a box of condoms, the camera is swiftly punched out by said comrade in a fit of apparent homophobic rage.
Brüno goes on to ‘adopt’ an African baby who he transports to America in a cardboard box, tries to seduce former presidential candidate Ron Paul in a seedy hotel room, and convinces Paula Abdul and LaToya Jackson to sit on furniture made from kneeling Mexicans. He tells a gay converter that he has “perfect blowjob lips”, to which the stammering man replies they were made “only to praise Jesus”. If Brüno’s comments elicit laughter from the audience, the true genius lies in the spontaneous and outraged reactions of his victims.
At times this feels a tad staged, a stint at a US military facility sees Brüno faced with barking generals who seem almost at the point of laughter when he accessorizes his uniform with a silk scarf, and the advances of an enthusiastic dominatrix during a swinger’s party, and Brüno’s exit from this, are rather extreme. However other moments are cringingly, unarguably real. One fears for Baron Cohen’s life as he flees from a group of enraged Hasidic Jews for walking the streets of Jerusalem in tiny hot pants, or passionately kisses a man in front of a crowd of gay-hating extreme wrestling fans. Ultimately, Brüno is only as good as the reactions that it provokes, and Baron Cohen chooses his targets well, knowing which demographics to target for his desired effect. His dedication to staying in character in the face of such extreme and often dangerous situations sustains the film throughout its multitude of hysterical moments. Borat move over. The best has truly been saved until last.