Gay Puree

While it's got its share of over-the-top, awkward moments, Sacha Baron Cohen's ''Brüno'' incites more grins than groans

Brüno is like anal bleaching: You can’t believe anyone would actually do it, the thought of it makes you cringe, and you’re happy that it’s someone else’s ass on the line. That said, the end result is stunning!

Sacha Baron Cohen stars as Brüno, an Austrian fashionista, and this time instead of leaving his people behind in the village, he’s bringing the Village People along with him. Okay, maybe not literally, but every time his flamboyant Brüno opens his mouth, it’s like half the band falls out. The gayer half.

Sacha Baron Cohen ''Bruno''
Sacha Baron Cohen ”Bruno”
(Photo by Mark Schwartzbard)

Anyone shocked by Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is at least going to be prepared for the outrageous things that Cohen is willing to do in his quest to make a film. But don’t worry, knowing it’s going to be outrageous doesn’t take any of the sting out. Brüno still leaves welts.

The premise is very much the same: Outrageous foreigner and his odd sidekick travel around the states (and briefly abroad) on a quest, terrorizing unsuspecting folks along the way. Brüno’s Holy Grail is fame and he’s got fewer boundaries than a reality-television star. From pitching a TV show in Los Angeles, to hunting in Alabama, to some soul searching in an effort to ”straighten” up, Brüno is relentless.

One notable change from Borat is that between each of the horribly uncomfortable moments, when the innocent bystander’s reaction is just as critical as Cohen’s action, there are more transitional scenes that weave together a storyline. Most of these scenes occur between Brüno and his devotee Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), as the two devise one get-rich-and-famous-quick scheme after another. The staged bits have the inevitable effect of opening the door to questioning which other scenes are potentially faked. Or perhaps it’s just more desirable to believe a stage mother is in on the joke than to think performing liposuction on her toddler would ever be okay.

But then there are the scenes that are so obviously real, so painfully awkward to watch, that you’re trying to hide behind both your hands. Sometimes it’s faces you know — a too-easy target in Paula Abdul and a truly unprepared Rep. Ron Paul — and other times it’s a karate teacher unaccustomed to fighting off sex toys.

Ultimately, there is one main difference that separates Borat from Brüno, and that is while Borat’s persona was built upon ignorance, Brüno is just a big ol’ queen. He’s not stupid, simply self-absorbed. And this removes a level of pity that raised the stakes in Borat. By shifting this balance in Brüno, the humor outshines the awkwardness, and Brüno incites more grinning and less groaning.

The entire film rests on Cohen’s shoulders, even as he’s resting on someone else’s lap, and there’s no doubting his utter commitment to this role. While it appears he’s endangering children, household help, and various other creatures, it’s really only Cohen who is in the line of fire. He plays Brüno convincingly, wholeheartedly, and, amazingly, not insultingly.

BRÃœNO
starstarstarstar1/2
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten
Rated R
83 Minutes
Opens Friday, July 10
Area Theaters

Being such a flamboyantly gay character is bound to raise questions and doubts in the gay community, but Cohen has turned the tables on his victims. The religious fanatics, the homophobes, and the stage parents come off far worse than the gay community in the film. Sure, Brüno is a stereotype wrapped in a cliché clutching a purse, but the joke is on the homophobes, not so much us.

How Brüno avoided an NC-17 rating is beyond me. Listing the many reasons why it leaves R-rating land in the dust would be giving away some of the more outlandish moments, but this is not a movie to see with Mom. Or even on a first date.

Inevitably, there will be heated debates about whether Borat or Brüno is the better film. What isn’t up for debate is that Brüno is a success. So it’s time to pop the cork on the champagne in celebration. And Brüno will show you exactly how to pour it.

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