Brüno. Yes, well, here’s the thing. I laughed myself sick in some parts of the movie. And other parts dumbstrike with a sensation between gobsmackedness and speechlessness. Agogness, maybe. For a few days I had no idea what to think about it – it is, as Nietzsche might say, beyond good and evil.
Locally it’s attracted some po-faced, and very self-righteous* (*sanctimonious, was the word I was looking for) or toffynosed reviews, some carefully neutral ones, and just the one outright go&seeit:
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(Budget cuts have precluded umlauts at both Fairfax and News Ltd offices.)
From Fairfax press:
Jim Schembri, Age: ‘Behave obnoxiously in front of anybody for long enough and you will eventually get a response suitable for your film. Never mind comic genius; a masturbating monkey could do that.’
Sandra Hall, Sydney Morning Herald: ‘He’s granted an audience with Palestinian militia leaders which is so Pythonesque that it justifies the exercise. But he should stop now … we read that the Chaser team were only admitted to the film’s premiere on condition that they promised not to do a Bruno on Bruno. In other words, he’s no longer a saboteur. He’s become part of the machinery.’
Philipa Hawker, Age: ‘While the Borat movie was an excruciatingly mixed pleasure, somewhere between appealing and appalling, Bruno’s cinematic outing has more of a storyline and less of a sense of jaw-dropping disbelief.’
From News Ltd:
The Daily Telegraph (at news.com.au) has – very bizarre – a piece by old Mr Politics himself, Laurie Oakes, about Rudd, Rove and political comedy – read it for yourself and go, uuhh?
The Herald Sun‘s Leigh Paatsch declined to log his review on his webpage. What he wrote earlier: ‘While Cohen’s taboo-breaking audacity remains in full force throughout Bruno, his ability to keep the big laughs on a roll has waned this time around. ‘
Colin Newton, Courier Mail: ‘”Anal bleaching” is a phrase I never thought I’d write in a film review* … Consider the words as a barometer of your likely approval of, interest in and tolerance towards this mockumentary..’ [*Wonder where Mr Newton does use the phrase?]
Two reviews in Hobart’s Mercury:
Stuart Diwell: ‘Borat stands as an insightful comic dissection of life in Dubya’s US of A compared with the crap – I wish I could use a more excremental word – that is Bruno … There is, however, not a funny moment to be found in Bruno.’
Tim Martain: ‘A reasonably amusing exercise in baiting Americans and deliberately trying to make the audience feel uncomfortable.’
Christy Lemire, Cairns Post: ‘Bruno is a one-joke character in a one-joke movie … at the end, the cameos in a We Are the World-style anthem from Elton John, Bono, Snoop Dogg and others confirm what you may have suspected all along: Baron Cohen has become part of the very establishment he’s parodying.’
David Stratton in The Australian: ‘It’s not a question, really, of tastelessness … It’s really a question of whether one finds the material funny. As you will have gathered, I didn’t.’
David and Margaret at the Movies, ABC:
M: But honestly I absolutely killed myself laughing at some sequences in this.
D: I just sat back in my seat feeling a bit miserable.
M: I do think we ought to warn people that there is a very uncensored use of the penis in this film and various other moments that are quite over the top. The Milli Vanilli simulated sex scene is really.
D: And you enjoyed all that, Margaret, didn’t you? I can tell. What are you giving it?
M: Oh, it’s so rude.
D: What are you giving it?
M: I’m giving it three and a half.
D: I’m only giving it one.
M: Oh, David.
Dan Rookwood, Sydney Time Out: ‘It’s essential – but hardly comfortable – viewing. You’ll watch most of it through splayed fingers, and at times you’ll need a spare hand to pick your jaw up off the cinema floor.’
Here’s a stab: Brüno is like a Rorscharch test (how it works: crudely apply paint to one buttock, clench them together. Then spread buttocks and sit on a piece of paper. Show result to test subject and note response.)
Brüno is such an extreme exercise that how a reviewer records his or her own reaction is a pretty good indicator of that reviewer’s tightness of grip on his or her sense of decorum, his or her sense of humour and what access she or he has to what Yeats called the ‘foul rag and bone shop of my heart’. The most telling example is the hysterically characteristic conversation between D Stratton and M Pomeranz.
It can also stress some people in their carefully shaped personas. A striking example is the review by the New Yorker‘s great Anthony Lane. The insouciant doyen of the flip discard or adoring caress, he found himself in the joyless business of playing straight man to the übercamper:
‘Forget satire; this guy doesn’t want to scorch the earth anymore. He just wants to swing his dick. I’m not joking, but Baron Cohen is. There really is a scene where, with a focus group watching clips of Brüno’s show … he resorts to flaunting his member … and twirling it at the camera, like the baton of a majorette. Then, presumably with a little help from C.G.I., it speaks … you can’t help feeling, as Brüno proceeds, that it is opting for the shock of the gross-out whenever inspiration wilts. To be fair, the two young women beside me howled at the talking penis (not a bad emblem of the average male, they would say), and, if I had tried to explain that the Marx Brothers—sowers of extreme sedition, like Baron Cohen—sustained an entire career of ignobility without displaying a single erection, they would not have believed me. Even so, there was something forced in the women’s laughter, as if they wanted to banish any suspicion of prudery, and to prove themselves far too cool for disgust.’
Here Lane is swinging the crutch of his greater erudition and stoops to shrinking (as in, er, Freud) the women’s laughter into a defensive projection; they couldn’t possibly be laughing because it’s funny.
Much more honest, richer and very interesting is the Slate Gabfest (No. 43)* (*this is a podcast) discussion between three clever critics (two doubtfully disapproving, one uncertainly approving) about the movie’s provocation of laughter:
Culture editor, Stephen Metcalf: ‘I paid and sat with an audience that howled almost all the way through it … and I have to say I was with the audience. I was partially – in a cowardly way – being pulled along by their energy but at the same time, um, I did think it was extremely funny, but an almost total conceptual failure, but that shouldn’t matter? So, something else has gone wrong if you need to locate yourself within a kind of conceptual framework in order to understand why you’re laughing to the extent that you are laughing. And once I couldn’t locate that, uh, once I couldn’t understand if I was watching satire or crude skit humour … the movie ultimately, totally lost me. Mmm, I think I had a point somewhere in there.’
Movie critic, Dana Stevens: ‘That sounds to me like what Sacha Baron Cohen, at least I think … that would be the reaction he’d want. For the viewer to be lost amid the question of what it is that he is trying to do. I actually agree that it fails as a satire but … who is making that argument that this is supposed to be an incisive satire about American foibles?
Dep. editor, Julia Turner: ‘I’m not sure that people are making that argument but that’s what I want it to be to justify my own laughing at it.’
DS: ‘I guess I’m just a masochist but it was precisely that being f*ed with in that way that made me laugh … and that feeling of not being put in that condescending or patronising position that comedy audiences are often put in, like, push your buttons and make you laugh.’
Will or did Brüno make you laugh? Will or did you feel guilty for laughing? Does laughing at sick or crude or deeply anti-(insert choice) jokes say something unpleasant about us? Do you care why you laugh? The three teenage boys in front of us laughed a lot, but a little less than we did. For some of that time they were likely in a state of awestruck agogness. And I’d love to hear what Queen Betty and Phil will think of it.