New film is fun, but not legitimate social commentary

BY MICHAEL DAVIS | JULY 10, 2009 7:10 AM

There is no doubt that millions of people will see Sacha Baron Cohen’s new satirical socio-comedy Brüno in the upcoming weeks. Many will laugh hysterically at the guerrilla tactics of Cohen’s brand of comedy. They will marvel at how his character subverts stereotypes to stage sublime silliness.

Having seen the film, my first inclination is to praise Cohen’s attempt at making people laugh while throwing in a bit of social politics. However, because the bar was set so high after Borat, Brüno fails to match the madcap hilarity that ensued in that 2006 film. The reason for this simple: Cohen fails more often than not in his attempts to subvert our underlying social issues as a country. While the movie is often entertaining, it doesn’t go far toward any kind of reasonable social commentary.

Cohen puts so much into his various skits and his outrageous character that we are overwhelmed by the velocity of his social and political fireballs.

Cohen has at least made Brüno an equal-opportunity offender when it comes to whom he insults. If you are gay, devoutly religious, Southern, black, or Ron Paul, elements of this movie will be offensive. Cohen tries to register laughs by pointing out the absurdity of these stereotypes and how we play a part in their development. His success-to-failure ratio in his comedy is about even. Certain scenes, such as his sessions with a gay-to-straight conversion specialist are the most subversive, as are his interviews with baby-actor parents.

“Would your baby be willing to work with bees, wasps, or hornets?”

As Cohen plays a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion designer, various groups — such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation — have been skeptical about the movie. The level of open-mindedness to understand and conceptualize Cohen’s character might be asking a little to much of the average moviegoer forking over $10 for a night of fun. The comedy at certain levels is darkly comical and not at all mainstream.

Some will understand the social jousting Cohen is leaning toward, but some (hopefully, a small minority) will use it as just another punch line for defamatory language. Borat certainly depicted some of the same stereotypes but on much more quiet canvass. If Borat was the appetizer, Brüno is the four shots of Jack Daniel’s after dessert.

My reservations about this movie do not extend to an outright disapproval of its comedy. There are scenes that are extremely funny, possibly some of the funniest of the year.

But in its subversive tone and dynamics, I fail to see how we really gain much of anything in the way of discovering our own inner demons toward certain individuals. Cohen’s work strives for controversy, and on that level, he succeeds masterfully. More often than not, the reasoning for his behavior in this film is unexplained and entirely superficial.

Some might say that I should just look at this film as a movie and respect the comedy and its creative nature. But when Cohen opens himself up to such controversial issues as homophobia and bigotry, it stops being just a comedy and turns into replication of modern American life.

Being a budding movie critic as well as a social and political observer, I pride myself on giving the most straightforward answer on a favorable or not so favorable review. When looking at Brüno as a film, my conclusions are simple. If your looking for a shockingly, outrageous time at the multiplex, then this film will most likely appeal to you. If you’re looking to be enthralled by Sacha Baron Cohen’s masterfully subversive and satirical look at social issues, then you might as well look somewhere else.

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