All hail Brüno!
Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up to Borat is destined to be a cultural phenomenon: Brüno is the most outrageous gay character yet to appear in a big-budget feature film and his jaw-dropping satirical slapstick is nothing short of queer cultural terrorism. It is exactly what we need in a time when many of our community leaders would rather see us respectable and domesticated.
Enjoying Brüno means being able to stomach seeing a queer in danger — even though you know full well he will survive, and that he is actually straight. The real-life situations that Baron Cohen puts himself in are nothing short of death defying. The film’s thrilling shock-shtick comes from how far he is willing to torture straight people with his provocative homosexiness (complete with in-your-face extreme kink theatrics) and his strategic strikes of high-fashion flaming femmitude. Brandishing a bleached, asymmetrical haircut, the most ridiculous and revealing high-fashion outfits ever assembled, a hilariously subzero intellect and impoverished ethical system and a feeble grasp of the English language, Brüno is the archetype of the superficial, spoiled, sex-obsessed (and supposedly, 19-year-old) Eurotrash white gay princess. He is truly a fag to watch out for.
The film begins with haughty Brüno at the height of his power, hosting the most popular German-language fashion TV show (outside of Germany): Funkyzeit mit Brüno. After a disastrous catwalk incident triggered by an all-Velcro outfit, Brüno ist blacklisted. Fallen from grace, everyone turns against him, including his dexterous flight attendant boyfriend. Brüno decides to leave Vienna to make it big in America, aspiring to become the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler and the biggest gay superstar since Schwarzenegger. Tagging along is poor Lutz, his assistant’s assistant, and the only one who still believes in — and unrequitedly loves — Brüno.
Where Borat was supposedly a cheap Kazakh travel documentary about America, Brüno is more like a slickly edited E! True Hollywood Story. The narrative structure is pretty much the same, though, as our hero endures all sorts of trials and tribulations that find him at his lowest crying alone and pushing a shopping cart — trailed by half a dozen wardrobe racks of designer clothes — through the streets.
Brüno’s many misadventures in his quest for fame include attempts at becoming a big actor and Hollywood chat show host (where he and his guests critique celebrity fetuses). Most trenchantly, Brüno seeks to thrust himself into the spotlight by taking on a trendy charitable cause, like achieving peace in Middle Earth. (The film ruthlessly mocks clueless celebs who treat global crises and their victims like cool seasonal accessories.) He also tries to make a sex tape with a Republican presidential candidate, get kidnapped in a Palestinian refugee camp and finally go straight with the help of ex-gays, soldiers, swingers, hunters and self-defence instructors, all in order to be a star again.
Perhaps the most explosive scene in the film is Brüno’s appearance on a Dallas trash talk show (hosted by the notorious Richard Bey), which boasts an entirely African-American audience. Brüno is there as a single parent of a black baby — whom he acquired illicitly in Africa and brought home in a cardboard box — and his racism and promiscuity drives the audience crazy with moral outrage: He is their worst nightmare of the white fag preying on an innocent black boy-child. The film enters dangerous territory here, and the scene ends in a weird slo-mo, semi-emotional moment as the audience cheers as Brüno’s son is seized by a child welfare worker.
Granted, most of Brüno’s targets are on the softer side: hicks, Christian conservatives, models and morally bankrupt stage parents do not exactly need Brüno’s help to look bad. A new word — German, naturally — must be coined to capture the look of simultaneous disgust and irritation that plays across these unsuspecting heterosexuals’ faces. His insane, straight-baiting stunts expose the dark heart of queer-hating that is often shrouded under a polite exterior. Our reality-TV culture can tolerate diversity only when neatly packaged as entertainment, not when it’s messy, perverted, offensive and different — like Brüno.
Brüno is brilliant because he is so extreme a caricature; the film will cause walkouts both by homophobes and by people who interpret Baron Cohen’s razor-sharp routine as itself homophobic. Created by heterosexuals, the film throws down a gauntlet to queer filmmakers to take more risks.
Brüno’s spectacular ending — all I’ll say is that it features a cage, Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and hundreds of rabid rednecks — speaks volumes about the incredible power that queers (and queer sex in particular) still have to blow anyone’s mind, even the most liberal, inciting us to embrace our potential to be terrorists instead of being tamed.
Brüno opens Fri, Jul 10.
Z-Man from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Z-Man, aka Ronnie Barzell (played by John Lazar) in the nonsequel sequel to Valley of the Dolls, 1970’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls by Russ Meyer (and written by critic Roger Ebert). Z-Man is an LA-based impresario who takes naïve all-girl band The Carrie Nations under his wing. At the film’s end his failed bid to seduce hunky Lance at a drugged-out party results in Lance’s decapitation by sword and the bloody end of a goodly number of characters, including Z-Man himself. Terrible. Love it.
Roger De Bris from The Producers (the first one, 1968)
Christopher Hewett plays the flamboyant director of the surprise hit musical Springtime for Hitler in Mel Brooks’ hilarious directorial debut.
Frank Ripploh in Taxi zum Klo (Taxi to the Toilet)
An elementary school teacher by day, an inveterate bathroom sex fiend my night, Frank (aka Peggy) even when suffering from hepatitis, takes a taxi from the hospital to keep cruising. Ripploh wrote, directed and starred in this underground German hit from 1981.
Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon
Peter Lorre as a scheming, simpering fairy reeks of more than just gardenias is this classic crime thriller from 1941 starring Humphrey Bogart.
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