Sacha Baron Cohen is more of a daredevil than Evel
Kenivel and Phillip Petite combined. He may not have jumped
across a line of buses with a motorcycle or walked on a
tightrope across the World Trade Center, but he has willingly
subjected himself to dangerous people in equally dangerous
situations in order to make mockumentaries. He incurs the
wrath of those in positions of power. He’s willing to make
everyone hate him just for the sake of getting us to laugh.
In “Borat,” while in disguise as the title character,
he sang a fake Kazakhstani national anthem to the tune of
our national anthem at a rodeo full of uber-conservative
Virginians. He spewed sexist banter to a group of feminists
and anti-Semitic banter to his camcorder while staying at
a bed and breakfast owned by a Jewish couple. This man knows
no fear. ***
He proves that once again with “Brüno,” a mockumentary
from director Larry Charles. This movie is just plain funny.
Damn funny. It’s audacious at a level I’ve rarely seen,
and truth be told, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that kind
of filmmaking. Instead of a Kazakhstani journalist, Cohen
plays a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista who makes
it his mission to become more famous than Hitler. If that
alone doesn’t make you laugh, do yourself a tremendous favor
and forget you’ve ever heard of Cohen. You must be in on
the joke. ***
That shouldn’t be too hard for most audiences, I suspect.
What he says and does as the title character is so over
the top that it’s difficult to not see it as one big joke.
It seemed, however, pretty difficult for the people involved
with the film, most of whom were ordinary citizens that
had no idea who Cohen was or what he was doing. I initially
had a hard time getting that through my head, considering
how well known he is. Then again, the people he interacts
with would probably not go out of their way to see a film
like “Borat.” ***
After success eludes him in his native Austria, the
scantily-dressed Brüno decides to try his luck in Los Angeles.
But it immediately proves more difficult than he thought
it would be, prompting him to travel from city to city with
his head-over-heels assistant, Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten).
He tries acting. He tries pitching a celebrity interview
program. He tries getting involved in a just cause. He tries
swapping an African baby for an iPod. He even tries going
into therapy to cure him of his homosexuality, because,
obviously, all the cool celebrities are straight. ***
At one point, he tries to prove he loves women by competing
in an Arkansas cage fight, attended by a rowdy, beer-swilling
group of homophobic rednecks with murderous glints in their
eyes. Were there no cameras there, were there no film crew,
I’m not convinced Cohen would be alive today. ***
What I love about Cohen is that he’s more than a comedian.
He may in fact be one of the most effective social critics
who ever walked. As Borat and Brüno, two manifestly ignorant
characters, he exposes the real ignorance and stupidity
that still plague humanity. In “Brüno,” Cohen and Charles
have a lot of fun at the expense of various anti-gay groups.
Whatever your beliefs, you can’t help but feel a little
sorry for Jody Trautwein, a Points of Grace Ministries youth
pastor who genuinely believed he was curing a gay man. I
don’t feel quite as sorry for the picketers of God Hates
Fags, who had to endure the sight of Cohen and Hammarsten
strapped together while wearing super erotic gear. ***
But there are other people Cohen targets besides homophobes.
Brüno pays a visit to a photography studio, where hopeful
stage parents pretty up their toddlers for a photo shoot.
A brief montage makes it perfectly clear that many of these
people should not have had children in the first place.
Later on, he travels to the Middle East and moderates
a discussion between Israeli Yossi Alpher and a Palestinian
man; the scene plays mostly for laughs, but even as Brüno,
Cohen is actually addressing a serious issue, and God help
us all, he was making sense. By acting foolishly, he sheds
light on just how foolish everyone else in the Middle East
is behaving, especially in this terrible situation. If only
they saw it the same way. ***
And that’s what “Brüno” is all about: Finding the humor
in mindsets that are anything but humorous. So I guess it’s
good that Cohen is so willing to put himself on the line,
because goodness knows laughter can often expose ignorance
much more effectively than dramatic commentaries. ***