Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest comedy-as-politick, is a vigorous exposé on our nation’s intolerance. Whether it be homophobia, racism, or sexism, the comedian stirs the dirty waters of hypocrisy and hatred with a giant, um, stick. The film finds Cohen leaving behind Borat and Ali G (retired, he has said, due to notoriety) for the self-proclaimed “cockaholic” Austrian fashionista known as Brüno. He gets Paula Abdul to talk about charity work while she sits on top of a Hispanic man posing as furniture; Ron Paul is (almost) lured into making a sex tape; and an “ex-gay” Christian is told he has great blowjob lips. Oh, and there’s a talking meatus, too.
After he is “schwarz-listed” for crashing a Milan fashion show, Brüno heads to Los Angeles to become “the world’s greatest Austrian star since Hitler.” With his perfectly coiffed hair and sexy gams, Brüno is both delicious and devious. He uses sex as a gag and a threat, confronting homophobia and testing the audience’s tolerance for heavy kink. As the character performs air-anilingus on the deceased spirit of Milli (you know, Vanilli’s other half) in the presence of a Hollywood psychic, Cohen is acknowledging the silliness of sexual behaviors, gay or straight. We do funny shit to get off, and, as Snoop Dogg affirms at the end of the film, it’s simply “okay.”
But fluid sexuality and anal fisting aren’t okay with everyone, and this hostility is Cohen’s comedic material. Unlike Borat, who wore racism on his sleeve, thereby encouraging prejudices in unsuspecting parties, Brüno confronts homophobes with flagrant homosexuality. It’s a dangerous yet brilliant tactic. When the character of Brüno enrages heterosexual men to the point of lunacy, Cohen exposes the dark comedy behind men’s fear of their own assholes. During a makeshift wrestling event in Arkansas, sweaty white boys wear t-shirts proclaiming, “My Asshole is for Shitting.” Brüno, in an effort to “get straight” to become famous, walks out with a full mullet and camo attire and gets the audience of drunk Southerners to chant, “Straight Pride!” What happens next is the ultimate transgression against heteronormativity: Brüno and his gay assistant get it on in the middle of the wrestling ring. It’s an unabashed display of gay sexuality, and watching the boys’ enraged reactions is sweet poetic justice.
Gay activists have expressed their wariness of Brüno’s effect on the movie-going public. And who can blame them? With the disappointment of Prop 8 and Obama’s obvious reluctance to support gay rights-related issues, the LGBT community is experiencing incredible injustices at a time when we’re all supposed to believe in “change.” At one point in the film, Brüno asks a self-defense instructor how to protect himself against homosexuals. The instructor replies, “Homosexuals are like terrorists. They dress like you and me. If someone approaches you and is extremely nice, they’re most likely homosexual.” This sexuality-as-threat dynamic has permeated this country to the point of absurdity. And Cohen takes this absurdity and wields it as a weapon of his own, forcing primarily white males — including many who have probably never known anyone out of the closet — to look their homophobia straight in the face (or dick). Cohen’s decision to use over-the-top raunchiness and aggressive gay behavior risks furthering a stereotype that is believed wholeheartedly by many Bible-thumping country folk.
However, it is the outrageousness of Brüno’s libido that liberates the film from being anything other than revolutionary. Here is a movie with montages of creative anal play (champagne bottle anyone?), a slow-motion close-up of a thrusting penis, and multiple trips to the anal bleaching/waxing clinic. Cohen saturates the film with so much man-on-man action that he succeeds in normalizing the social taboo of frank and unapologetic homosexuality. Brüno’s closet is for sex toys, not for sexuality. When films like Brokeback Mountain or Y Tü Mama También generate buzz because of a simple kiss or a soft-core sex scene, America’s boundaries are slightly rattled but largely remain intact. We give them Oscars and call them “brave.” Cohen isn’t brave; he’s downright heroic. He’s bringing raunchiness to the mainstream in what may turn out to be this summer’s smartest and most socially conscious film.