I don’t have that much to say about Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest satirical mockumentary, Bruno. I found most of the humor tedious, obvious, and, quite honestly, boring.  The Bruno character has always seemed less developed and interesting than some of the other characters in Cohen’s repertoire.  Like Borat, Bruno comes across as incredibly naive, a position that allows him to draw out the sometimes shocking behaviors and beliefs of the various people he encounters, whether public figures such as Ron Paul or private citizens, with their own interests (including the opportunity to appear in a “documentary”).  But I’ve been puzzling about two things when it comes to Bruno.  First, why did the film seem so remarkably unfunny to me (I even considered walking out)?  Second, is the film saying anything genuinely new or interesting through its use of satire?

It shouldn’t surprise us that anti-gay ministers will say things that are homophobic or that a bunch of rabidly drunk universal fighting fans will freak out when a performer exposes some of the homosocial tendencies of that sport.  I’m certainly willing to see a film that is happy to mock homophobia, even if I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the methods it uses.  There has been some debate about whether or not Bruno reinforces gay stereotypes, and given that viewers will inevitably bring their own biases to the film, that may be a concern, but for the most part, the encounters staged by Cohen are clearly meant to reveal the absurdities of homophobia.  Still, there was nothing terribly insightful about the observations made about those issues.

That being said, I find myself agreeing (somewhat) with the review by Maura Flynn on the conservative website, Big Hollywood that the more interesting elements of satire in the film involve the desire for celebrity.  The film is loosely structured around Bruno’s desire to achieve celebrity status, and like Borat’s cross-country journey to find (and marry) Pamela Anderson, Bruno sets its sights on reaching Los Angeles, in this case, because it would allow Bruno to become “famous.”  Bruno’s attempts to become famous are, thanks to his naivete, based on a fundamental misunderstanding that if he becomes involved in political causes, makes a sex tape, or adopts a child, he will become famous because he has seen celebrities doing those things.  I don’t think “Hollywood” is the sole target here, as Flynn argues, but celebrity culture more generally, including the more excessive behaviors of parents who are willing to exploit their children for teh sake of fame and/or financial gain.  Cohen, for example, shows some moms who are willing to allow their children to appear in a variety of offensive and tasteless poses if they think it will help their careers, but it’s easy to take such images out of context, and we don’t see why these parents are making the decisions that they do.  Still, one of the more compelling (and funnier) scenes shows conservative political candidate, Ron Paul, taking an interview with Bruno in his hotel room, suggesting that the desire for celebrity doesn’t stop at the California state line (and that Ron Paul needed a more competent staff for vetting interviews).

For the most part, I found the film utterly dull (except for one or two moments, including the final scene).  It seemed rushed and too derivative and formulaic, exposing the (very narrow) limits of Cohen’s shtick.  I’m a big fan of satire and parody, but the targets of satire here weren’t surprising or new, and my sense is that rather than opening up questions about homophobia or the effects of celebrity culture, Bruno actually closes up some of the more interesting lines of thought about these issues.

Update: Jim Emerson makes a slightly more convincing case for appreciating Bruno by reading it as an update on the “heel” character from professional wrestling and observes that the film isn’t really that interested in exposing “heartland homophobia” to shocked blue-staters.  He also offers a sharp reading of the talk show scene (I won’t try to summarize it) and teases out some interesting differences between the Borat and Bruno personas.  I still didn’t think the film was very funny, but Emerson’s review is worth reading.

Update 2: Patrick Goldstein’s reaction to Bruno was similar to my own.  He also challenges the thesis that Bruno’s box office failure was abetted by Twitter.  Although bad word-of-mouth may have hurt the film, it’s too easy to blame the latest communication technology when the product simply isn’t that great. Besides, if some recent research is to be believed, the teen audience who would see Bruno in theaters isn’t usingTwitter anyway.


  1. Bruno | The Chutry Experiment » Bruno Said,

    July 16, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

    […] and, quite honestly, boring. The Bruno character has always seemed less developed and interesting Read more Share and […]

  2. Bruno » Current News Trends Said,

    July 17, 2009 @ 12:18 am

    […] The Chutry Experiment » Bruno […]

  3. Nels Said,

    July 18, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

    Judging by my fellow bloggers, I’m the only one who laughed throughout the movie, but I had a great timat at it. My thoughts on might be skewed or misguided, but I had a blast watching it.

  4. Chuck Said,

    July 20, 2009 @ 11:16 am

    I just didn’t think he did anything that original. There were a couple of funny moments, but the story seemed way too similar to Borat.

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