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Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I saw Bruno yesterday.

It was extremely funny, but also painful to watch because so many of the scenes are just excruciating awkward and embarrassing -- which is of course what makes it so funny.

Sasha Baron Cohen has made a career out of showing the culture clashes between his various characters and "normal" (non-show business) people. (Part of the fun is in seeing how much patience people will show for an incredibly stupid person.) In his various roles, he shows absolutely no respect to any of the famous or nonfamous people he interacts with, almost none of whom are in on the joke while they are being filmed.

No matter which of his three roles he is playing, Cohen is a genius at staying in character. His last movie was done in the character of Borat, a clueless Kazakh reporter new to the ways of the West. Bruno, his current character, is a hysterically narcissistic, gay fashionista who is absolutely oblivious to any sensibilities other than his own.

Midway through the movie Bruno decides that in order to become a celebrity he must become heterosexual ("like John Travolta, Tom Cruise, and Kevin Spacey"). In his efforts to transform himself he crosses paths with a pair of drill sergeants at a National Guard training center, some hunters, drunken mixed martial arts fans, and some swingers at a party. Needless to say, Bruno, despite his "intentions," remains himself throughout.

At another point, Bruno decides he should adopt an African baby, "just like Madonna and Brangelina." When he appears in front of a local television talk show and it becomes increasingly apparent that the baby is nothing more than an accessory for him, the primarily African-American audience becomes increasingly enraged. But Bruno stays in character.

Cohen -- who wrote his senior thesis at Oxford on the role of American Jews in civil rights movement -- has spent an extraordinary amount of energy "exposing" anti-Semitism in "Borat" and on his former HBO show. (His definition of an anti-Semite seems to be, anyone who politely fails to object to his own anti-Semitic comments.)

Thankfully, Bruno didn't include much of that.

I happened to see a clip of Barbara Walters denouncing the movie on the internet today. She decried its graphic sex, homophobia, and cruel humor. (What did she expect?) Of course, she also said in the same breath that some of her comments (for instance, "I don't need to know exactly how they perform anal sex") would probably draw more people into the theater.

It's not clear whether Walters was slyly shilling for him or genuinely outraged by the movie's content. (She was probably shilling, but simultaneously covering herself.)

You'll enjoy the movie only if you have a twisted sense of humor to begin with. Even then, prepare to squirm.

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