MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Vassup, Bruno

Note: this column treads into spoilery territory.  So if you want to stay pure forBruno, then avert your eyes!

When Da Ali G Show premiered on HBO, I remember where I was and who I was with. It was a seminal comedic moment in my life, changing the verynature of what I thought humor could do.  Sure, I’d seen The Daily Show mock the news before, but this was more aggressive and dangerous; if Jon Stewartwas Bill Cosby, then Sacha Baron Cohen was Richard Pryor.

Cohen made a game of seeing how people would react to the buttons he pushed in his various guises. What did people’s reactions to him say about them and their values?  More than that, what do their reactions say about the country we live in?  Not the usual questions brought up by a half-hour comedy show.

With the spin-off film Borat, Cohen tackled the very real issues of being a foreigner in America — how to fit in and how easily one can be taken advantage of. The most terrifying and hilarious aspect of that film was the way in which people felt like they could espouse their opinions to this simpleton, hoping to impress upon Borat their own worldview.  It wasn’t that they genuinely wanted to teach Borat how to be an American, but how to be a real American like them so that this foreigner would be less threatening.

The aim of Bruno is a bit different. Of course, it is still about trying to point out hypocrisy and intolerance, but the character of Bruno is also a lot more in-your-face and confident.  Where Borat mumbled politely, Bruno yells proudly. If Borat was about fear of the “other” in the form of an “Arab-looking” man, then Bruno is about that very same fear in the form of a flamboyantly homosexual and shallow man.  Both of these characters are far from innocent, but compared to some of the people they encounter, they almost seem wholesome.

There is a bit in Bruno, where the main character is talking to parents of toddlers about what is and is not acceptable if Bruno chooses their kid for a possible photo shoot.  “Does your child like lit phosphorus?”  “He loves it!”  Around the time when one mother says that a week is plenty of time for her toddler daughter to lose ten pounds and that she’d be open to liposuction to get those last few pounds off, it dawned on me that this was not funny. I don’t think Sacha Baron Cohen thinks it’s funny either. It’s amazing the way he gives these parents enough rope to hang themselves, gently prodding them off a cliff like lemmings; I would be surprised if Child Protective Services doesn’t contact a few of the parents from this scene.  But, I was amazed at the way in which my laughter started to become more of an uncomfortable giggle as the scene progressed from one that was strictly humorous to one that makes me say, “holy shit, my country is damaged.”

There are quite a few moments like this in the film and to spoil them all would sap a lot of the enjoyment from you.  The wonderful thing about the film, however, is that it’s hard to tell sometimes who is in the wrong.  At first, it seems as if Ron Paul is being homophobic and unnecessarily angry when he feels he is being hit on by Bruno; however, when Bruno finds himself in a similarly uncomfortable situation later on at a swinger’s party, we see the other side of it. Of course, this does not excuse some of the language that Ron Paul uses.

There seems to be a lot more scripted action in this film than there was in Borat, rather than extended scenes of Bruno just talking to regular folks.  But as in Borat, the film excels when Bruno is playing the interviewer.  Whether he is confusing “hummus” and “Hamas” while interviewing an ex-Mossad agent and a Palestinian politician or he’s convincing Paula Abdulto sit on some Mexican…uh, “chairs,” the film really makes its most cogent points in these scenes.  When the Israeli and the Palestinian both agree that hummus is healthy and delicious, Bruno astutely points out that they were finally agreeing on something.  And as idealistic as it may sound, perhaps that’s the real trick, to find what makes us the same rather than what sets us apart.

There’s been some outcry lately that Bruno is a caricature of homosexuality and that he is doing a disservice to the cause of equality. I would have to disagree vehemently with that assessment; Bruno is a fool, to be sure, but it’s the people around him that come across as most foolish.  Nothing should make straight Americans more embarrassed than the scene at the end of the film, set in a wrestling ring.  People get angry enough that they get violent rather than turning away from what they don’t want to see.  It reminds me of every time I heard someone say, “I don’t care what they do in their own homes, but not on my streets!”  Well, maybe it’s because I live in New York City, but I always felt like nobody was forcing me to see anything.  We have the option of turning away if we see something we don’t like.

But the character of Bruno is clearly not representative of all homosexuals and the fact is that he’s buffoon that happens to be gay. I don’t think anybody with half a brain will walk out of this film and say to themselves, “yep, that’s what all them gays are like.”  Nor do I expect anyone to become more homophobic as a result of seeing this film. In fact, because of the way Bruno talks with a “gay converter,” it may actually convince some folks of the pointlessness of being homophobic.

All that political stuff aside, this film is seriously hilarious. I found it to be funnier than Borat in almost every conceivable way. Not only were the jokes more hit than miss, but I laughed harder at them.  The film covers a lot of ground in 82 minutes, dissecting celebrity, the fashion world and homophobia.  You may have noticed that I haven’t discussed the “plot” of the film; well, that’s because it’s barely there.  Basically, Austrian TV host Bruno becomes an embarrassment in the European fashion world and comes to America to be a celebrity, with the help of his assistant’s assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), who has an unrequited crush on Bruno.  Hammarsten nearly steals the movie too, providing enough pathos and soul to remind us of the wonderful work he did in Lukas Moodysson’s Together and I couldn’t wait to get home to make sure it really was the same actor.

Sacha Baron Cohen is in a league of his own as a comedian and a performer and where he goes from here is difficult to judge.  It would seem nearly impossible for him to make another film in this vein again, as he’s far too recognizable at this point.  It will now be interesting to see him make the transition into a regular film star in a scripted movie.  Clearly, he has the talent to do it and an amazing ability to stay in character no matter what, but I also think maybe it’s possible for him to make another one of these.  If there’s anybody smart enough to figure out a way how, it’s him.

10 Best Picture Nominees

I just wanted to say something briefly about the Academy’s decision to double the number of Best Picture nominees to ten.  My first thought was: that is unbelievably stupid.  But now that I’ve thought it over, I’ve come to the following conclusion: it’s not like the Academy is in the habit of making “smart” decisions.  I can’t really get up in arms over this when the Academy nominated at least one terrible movie every year when there were only five nominees.  Now, you could say that they will nominate even more terrible movies, but I’m not so sure.  If the Academy had ten Best Picture nominees last year, then I’m sure films like Doubt andRevolutionary Road and maybe even Let the Right One In or Wall-E would have been nominated and that wouldn’t be such a terrible thing.

Does this move devalue the worth of having a film nominated for Best Picture?  Well, that would mean that there was some value in it to begin with.  Aside from the amount of DVDs that can be sold because of a sticker on a box, for me personally it makes no difference if a film is nominated for Best Picture or not; it won’t make me love a film any more or any less.  The Academy will still continue to nominated films like The Reader and continue to ignore films like Hunger or Paranoid Park or A Christmas Tale, so I don’t really think all that much is going to change.

– Noah Forrest
June 29, 2009
Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Frenzy On Column

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon