DVD Review: Brüno (2009)

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Much like landing on that square in "Monopoly" that sends you to jail without passing go or collecting $200, as
Brüno, the flamboyantly gay host of Vienna's popular TV show Funkyzeit discovers shortly into this mockumentary, a fashion risk can go past a fashion don't and right into a full-blown fashion disaster instantly.

Instead of being merely passed off as "no big deal, whatever," to use one of
Brüno's favorite phrases, it turns out that wearing a one-off suit made entirely out of Velcro to a European Fashion Week event is possibly the worst career move a fashionista could make after Brüno gets captured by security on the catwalk when a curtain and couture get caught on his garment.

And as if a fashion faux pas wasn't bad enough, further humiliation ensues when
Brüno gets blacklisted. Banished from the trendiest clubs by bouncers he'd bounced with privately in the past and fired from interviewing vapid models who announce that "autism" is in "because it's so funny" on Funkyzeit, Sacha Baron Cohen's Brüno realizes that the fashion world is much more superficial and vacuous than he'd realized. So instead of a future empathizing with catwalk veterans about the difficulty of putting one leg in front of the other and turning as everybody stares, the self-proclaimed “nineteen year old” decides the answer to his instant lack of fame is "über-fame."

Heading to Los Angeles to become a major movie star, Brüno embarks on the second
unlikely Homeric journey from Cohen and director Larry Charles, following the smash success of their previous mockumentary Borat. The former film, which went from instant cult classic to box office gold garnered Cohen a real-life Golden Globe along with hundreds of lawsuits.

Although it's more outlandish and extreme than its predecessor, overall Brüno is extremely similar to Borat in terms of both structure as well as its attempt to squeeze an endless amount of issues into the running time of a feature-length film.

Fortunately, this time around, the final cut feels much more polished and professional in each successive stage of the production since no doubt they learned a lot from the first movie including how to avoid the police and legal scrapes. Yet once again, Cohen balances on that perilous tightrope of masquerading as a 100% real individual to catch the prejudices, culture clashes, and hypocrisies in western vs. eastern relations and attitudes.

In doing so, Cohen and the crew risk jail, deportation, dismemberment and death which is all chronicled in Cohen and Charles' enhanced feature length commentary track wherein the men insert side-by-side making-of clips and pictures as the movie plays. And in the film itself, Brüno's increasingly outrageous quest to become “the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler” ultimately ends up analyzing various levels of our own fame hungry society.

Whether celebrities invited to Brüno's place for TV interviews freely sit on the backs of Latino migrant workers used as benches or parents agree to liposuction to rid ten pounds of pesky baby fat from their children, the lust for fame is insatiable and runs throughout.

Along the way, we encounter charity PR consultants who look like ex-Vegas showgirls and can't form a complete sentence let alone pronounce “Darfur” correctly as they provide
Brüno with the creepy albeit quickly dismissed idea of making bracelets out of extinct animals to raise issue awareness. Soon after, the audience meets a psychic who helps Brüno get in touch with long lost brief love Milli (as in Vanilli). Afterward, in a particularly great "get" for the production team, Brüno mistakes Ron Paul for Ru-Paul in a staged seduction with the hope of ensnaring the politician into a sex-scandal to gain infamous instant fame.

Whereas Borat would simply go off on tangents and sometimes stay with subplots a bit too long, because
Brüno has a far more international focus and scope, the movie suffers a bit from its ambition despite brilliant plans to achieve comic gold. Cohen's Brüno may be a single character in his depiction of a fame seeking former fashionista but through this one persona, the incredibly gifted chameleon tries to don far too many hats. Therefore, instead of a solid through-line, often I felt that the filmmakers repeatedly stumbled into enough potential in endless subplots that they could've developed them into thirty to forty minute short films in their own right.

One major example
of my belief that the filmmakers had far too many mini-movies they were attempting to edit together can be found in a particularly dangerous segment set in Israel and Palestine wherein Brüno ventures to “middle earth” to try to and broker peace. While this results in a hilariously awkward conversation wherein Cohen uses his charisma and gift for intellectual humor to a terrific result, sadly this sequence has nothing to do with Brüno as he is originally introduced in the beginning of the film. Moreover, aside from its emphasis on the most disgustingly tasteless of sight gags to play to the extreme lowbrow, overall, Brüno can't hide its IQ in scatological sequences as the film demands more political awareness than the previous one did and similarly, the mix of lowbrow and highbrow feels forced.

Likewise, in another timely gag that is introduced, dropped, and then boomerangs back out of nowhere with a few obvious sequences we sense have been left on the cutting room floor, Baron Cohen pokes fun at celebrities who use adopted foreign children as "fashion accessories." However, since his character is a gay fashionista who uncovers enormous prejudice in our “land of the free,” overall
Brüno's main plight concerns civil rights for gay individuals in the United States.

However, before he reaches this issue, his sexuality is introduced with some truly revolting visual gags including one back in Vienna with Brüno's former very young looking boyfriend that is sure to send some people hitting eject, which may do more harm than good in gaining mainstream, middle-of-the-road support. However, soon intellect takes over as the filmmakers lead into some urgent, startling, and hilariously frank footage involving religious groups who propose to turn one straight via Jesus along with the laughably overlooked yet obvious homoeroticism of UFC style cage fighting.

Impressed by the level of subtle sophistication and multi-layered jokes utilized throughout, I felt that Brüno plays even better the second time when you can move beyond surface level hilarity to appreciate the message behind the madness. Unfortunately, I wish the juvenile obsessions on display in a few gratuitous sequences would've been abandoned in favor of making us laugh uproariously while also encouraging our analysis regarding just why something is funny and what it means in the scheme of things.

Again, ultimately I hope that these Homeric odyssey films will continue to use the natural shock value of human behavior by holding up a much needed mirror to our respective cultures rather than inserting foreign objects into the human body, should these films continue into a trilogy. Still, despite this, I'm grateful that Cohen is at least one of the few comedians out there who understands that the truest form of comedy is human comedy and that the medium can be used to educate and inspire as well as simply entertain.

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