Directed by Larry Charles, in cinemas now
Dressed up as irony, this caricature of “gayness” is a boost for the bigots.
Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest comic persona, is an air-headed Austrian gay fashionista who has come to the US in search of fame.
Along this thin plot line are strung a series of scenes about Bruno’s homosexuality and the homophobia he provokes in people—from wrestling fans to army sergeant majors.
The first thing that strikes you is that this is a grotesquely homophobic film, a compendium of everything that a particularly bigoted 12 year old boy might think he knows about gay people.
There’s an obsession with anal sex, which is treated as both revolting and hilarious.
Every teenage myth is referenced—from the belief that gay men have sex in front of children to the story that we push gerbils up each others’ backsides.
When homophobic bullying frequently goes unchallenged in schools, and celebrities can use the word “gay” to mean “rubbish” with impunity, it’s depressing to imagine the effect this film will have for LGBT school students.
With its most memorable moments stressing that gay people are either absurd or revolting, it can only give confidence to bigots.
It’s no excuse that Baron Cohen also mocks homophobic Christians and US rednecks in the film. Attacking both gays and bigots doesn’t make everything equal and leave us where we started—the film fails to take sides, and as such does nothing to undermine anyone’s anti-gay ideas.
The really strange thing for me is that this film is all about homosexuality, but there are no gay people in it.
In that sense it has as much to do with gay men as the Black and White Minstrel Show had to do with the reality of black people’s lives in the Deep South.
In both cases we have a bizarre series of stereotypes which end up being just plain offensive.
Some commentators have claimed that Baron Cohen confronts homophobia in the film. But confronting homophobia is about explaining the truth about the lives gay people live. Most LGBT people do this, and we know it requires patience and sympathy.
Because Bruno is an idiot, he’s not in a position to do that. Nobody learns anything or changes their ideas.
The rednecks go on being rednecks, and the world is presented as a mixture of mutually uncomprehending groups between whom no real contact or discussion is possible.
It’s a deeply miserable view of the world rather than a comic one.
In fact the film mocks everybody and everything. Models and Hollywood PR consultants are revealed to be facile people, which hardly counts as biting satire.
Bruno’s attempts to bring peace to the Middle East pokes fun at both Hassidic Jews and Palestinians. Nothing is worth taking seriously.
If this was the unfocussed, slightly crazy rage of Jonathan Swift or Eminem against the whole world, it might be interesting.
But the belief that the whole of human life and struggle is just the opportunity for one more joke about anal sex is tedious.
Even Bruno’s victims quickly get bored—most of them realise pretty soon that something isn’t right and are out of there, and the film’s gnat-brained attention span moves on.
This would be a truly depressing film if Baron Cohen found it easy to provoke homophobia. However, he has to work really hard, in absurdly contrived ways, to make this happen.
Bruno goes hunting with rednecks who only throw him out after he has woken them up twice at night with crude seduction attempts.
He winds up a black talk show audience by pretending to have adopted a black child and called him OJ.
Most of the people he encounters are remarkably tolerant of his dreadful behaviour until repeatedly provoked.
Sacha Baron Cohen is clearly an intelligent and creative person. He could presumably produce a film worth remembering in some way.
But Bruno deserves to be forgotten about as quickly as possible.
By Colin Wilson
Socialist Worker UK