Bruno: It’s OK to Laugh If You Get the Joke

“Sadly, I kind of liked it,” I hear the guy behind me say to his friend as the closing credits of Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest outrageous, tongue-in-cheek (and that’s the most appropriate of places) social satire begin to roll. “Is that bad?”—-

The brief silence and nervous laughter that follow perfectly capture the shell-shocked atmosphere of the theatre. I almost have to wade through the bodies as I make my way toward the exit.

“I’m sorry, but that was hilarious,” I catch another guy say on my way out the door.

I can’t help but revel in the irony. Only a film so unapologetically offensive could cause people to react so, well, apologetically. Which brings me to the innately paradoxical nature of Bruno (in which Cohen plays a flamboyantly gay Austrian TV host searching for fame in America, in the real-people, real-situations vein of 2006’s Borat):

Here is a movie that dares you to laugh at its crude, totally un-PC jokes, yet also see beyond them into the very real issues of our generation. Here is a movie that attempts to raise awareness of homophobia by turning gay stereotypes on their head, yet often goes so over the top that it risks reinforcing, rather than reducing, them.

I presume this is the dilemma of every socially conscious, feather-ruffling piece of entertainment: How do you spin stereotypes in such a way that can make people laugh, yet cause them to re-think them at the same time? Of course, Bruno does a lot more than just ruffle feathers. It grasps the viewer’s feathers tightly by the hand and yanks them out clean — without so much as an apology. If you thought Borat crossed the line, well, be prepared to erase that line entirely before you watch Bruno.

The combination of Cohen’s ridiculously discomforting scripted situations (in one particularly awkward scene, he attempts to seduce Republican Congressman Ron Paul; in another, he tries to convince a terrorist to kidnap him) and the actual reactions of the innocent, or not-so-innocent, people involved (Ron Paul books it; the terrorist tells him to leave) make for a movie so consistently agonizing you almost have to grit your teeth watching it.

But all of it works to prove a point.

Cohen and his writers might have scripted some squirm-inducing, outrageously inappropriate scenarios, but it’s the unscripted, bigoted reactions of real people that should really make audiences uncomfortable. The beauty of Bruno lies in this truth: At first, you laugh at Bruno. And then you realize that the joke is actually not on Bruno, but on the masses of people ignorant enough to believe that the joke’s on Bruno.

Sure, a lot of people probably won’t get that. But enough people will. And for that little sliver of hope for the LGBT community, and for America as a whole, I give Bruno a thumbs-up — despite its unpleasant overload of genital shots.

My only advice?

Go with an open mind. And leave the kids — oh, and the Bible-thumping grandparents — at home.

Check out theaters and show times, see the film's trailer and find nearby bars and restaurants here.

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