Am I old? Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m old. Three years ago, I saw Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the last (but not first, lest anyone forget Ali G Indahouse) feature-length experiment from mad comic genius/Cambridge grad/sometime national persona non grata Sacha Baron Cohen, and I don’t remember being quite as ... agape then as I was watching Brüno. (Pretty close, maybe, but not quite.) It’s virtually the same formula: Cohen — here an overtly gay Austrian television host rather than an anti-Semitic Kazakh reporter — again ventures into unsuspecting populations to capture their reactions to his mischief, goading, and feigned inanity. Brüno, though, seems to go further than Borat. Things start out relatively innocently — he crashes a fashion show attended by Sir Paul McCartney, he copulates multifariously with a diminutive Asian-American fellow — but, by film’s end, Cohen has dipped a cheeky toe into the waters of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; wielded simultaneously (and as weapons) more synthetic phalluses than he has hands, ragged on bin Laden to a for-real(?) terrorist’s face, and indelicately hit on a number of men (Alabama hunters, fundamentalist Christians, Ron Paul) who very much did not want to be hit on.
Though certain segments are particularly revelatory (a series of kid-casting interviews during which parents volunteer their very young children for unimaginable indignity and danger in order to secure the job is spellbinding/funny/horrifying), Brüno seems a bit less focused in its satire than was Borat. Further, from Paula Abdul to little O.J. (don’t ask), it’s hard not to feel for those ridiculed so publicly for our enjoyment, and wonder a bit whether it’s worth it. Brüno is the sort of movie where you walk out and are immediately albatrossed by the vaguely irrational need to apologize to someone — anyone.
But, boy, did I laugh my ass off.