Would Brüno be a funnier film if Borat hadn’t existed? Would Brüno have been made if Borat hadn’t been so successful? I ask because the film can be summed up by the sentence: Brüno is funny but it’s not as funny as Borat.
(I thought I’d reviewed Borat on this blog, but it appears I have been remiss – no surprise there – but I thought it was really good, and would haven given it a rating of ‘DAVE’ [yes, I’m so vain I named a film rating system after my own name].)
Borat was a very good film; even though there were the staged elements where Sacha Baron Cohen’s television reporter mocked ordinary Americans unaware that they were being used for a comedy film, it holds together as a film and works because the naïve but sympathetic idiot character of Borat isn’t being deliberately horrible to common folk. It is also incredibly funny – I couldn’t remember laughing so uncontrollably in the cinema for a long time. Hence, it was only right that Cohen be allowed to make more films, and so we have Brüno.
The only problem now is that Cohen is more recognisable (although he is hardly obvious as Brüno – he looks very different, and handsome, as the Austrian blond model) and his MO – pretending to be shooting a documentary in character – means that he has to search harder for targets. Also, he has to do things that are different to Borat, or be accused of duplicating his success with a different character. Unfortunately, this means that comedy scenes become much shorter because it is more difficult to keep up the sustained humour in the situations (there are lots of cuts in each scene to find the funniest line or reaction, some scenes lasting less than a minute, and there must be miles of film on the cutting room floor where they tried to find the best stuff), thereby affecting the flow of the film.
Also, the funny stuff isn’t so much funny as ‘I can’t believe he just did that’ funny, such as the scenes of Brüno having sex with his tiny Thai boyfriend, or the adopting an African baby and calling the child a traditional African name – OJ – on an American talk show with a predominantly African American audience, or the finale where he starts making out with his former assistant in the cage fighting ring, as the audience gets violently angry with this display of homosexuality. This isn’t quite the same reaction as actual belly laughs, although it’s still enjoyable to a degree. (But I have to admit that the shaky footage of Harrison Ford shouting ‘Fuck off’ in his gruff voice at Brüno when he tries to interview him coming out of a restaurant is hilarious.)
The forced stuff sticks out more than in Borat – the bit at the swingers party somewhere in deepest America, where Brüno ends up in a room alone with a woman who looks rather blatantly like a porn actress (with her plastic breasts and shaved pudenda) who starts whipping him, feels so obviously staged and worked out, especially when he falls out the window in a supposedly unplanned fashion – meaning that you are taken out of the reality of the film. The other problem is the character of Brüno himself – someone so self-centred, vain and shallow (he wants to be the most famous Austrian since Hitler) is rather annoying and hard to empathise with, unlike Borat, thus losing an important element necessary to make this sort of film work. This is impressive when you consider some of the appalling behaviour of the real people in the film – the ignorance of the charity PR consultants who don’t know the name of foreign countries, let alone where they are, when advising which charity Brüno should use to seek fame, or the parents of child ‘actors’ agreeing to allow unbelievably offensive things to be done to their children, as long as they get on TV.
The shock element of some scenes provides some truly hilarious moments, but the film doesn’t feel like a narrative, just a collection of sketches, meaning that the film can’t climb the heights of its predecessor.