When I heard a few years ago that Sacha Baron Cohen would be making a Brüno movie, I was unbelievably excited. But having recently seen Borat, I was confused as to why he would have made them in the order in which he did. As funny as Brüno no doubt would be, Borat would almost surely appeal to a broader audience and make more money. It seemed like that would be the best bet--to better introduce America to the creator of Da Ali G Show with Brüno, and lead up into a smash-hit like Borat.
But it turns out Cohen knew exactly what he was doing, because at the theatre last night, the funniest joke that came out of Brüno was the one Cohen played on the audience. Borat had been a rallying point for frat guys the nation over, with quotable quips for them to repeat à la Anchorman or Talladega Nights. So naturally, excited for what the creator of such a classic would be bringing to the table next, these same frat guys in their white baseball caps and American Eagle jeans showed up to the theatre this weekend. They were not happy with the result.
It turns out mysogyny and racism is a little bit easier to swallow than anything about being gay. Not that we didn't know that already. I've heard about a lot of people who walked out of the movie, but last night everyone stayed seated until the end--but as the credits started to roll, lots of disgusted folks started to stand up and bitch loudly. From the back of the theatre I heard "I didn't know it was going to be that gay," from one young man. His friend responded, "Yeah, I guess I don't have to see this ever again."
That was the moment that I realized Cohen's genius; how he managed to pull the wool over so many people's eyes to get them into one of the most ridiculous movies they'd ever been to--and one they most assuredly would have never gone to see if they'd had any kind of guess as to just how "gay it was going to be." Brüno was admittedly not as uproariously hilarious as its Kazakhstani predecesor--its humor depended far more upon the uncomfort it created as its main character pushed peoples' buttons. If you weren't homophobic, the movie was hilarious (if not depressing), to see what people would do and say to the main character just because he was a little flamboyant. Okay, maybe a lot flamboyant. The shame of the matter is that all he does is provide a mirror, or maybe a magnifying glass, that focuses in on exactly what this country truly Stands For. Guess what? It's not Freedom or Justice or any of those other words we find on bumperstickers on the backs of Ford F-350s with giant smokestacks mounted in their beds. It's Ignorance and Intolerance and Hate. And goddamn if we ain't proud of it.
You might say that Cohen pushes so hard that he would has to get a response. Yes, but if there was no response to be had, the character of Brüno wouldn't be able to exist at all. Try filming this movie in Iceland, where the majority of the populace voted for Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, a lesbian politician and now the first openly gay head of government in the entire world. It would have been a lot harder to pull off. There would still be people made uncomfortable by his antics, but the general climate of fear and hatred would have been vastly declined. Again, Sacha Baron Cohen only has produced a comedy in the most outward sense of the world: It makes you laugh. Because really, there is nothing funny about Brüno and what it says about us. And somehow, that is the funniest part of all.