Do men­tion the war

Sacha Baron Co­hen’s lat­est send-up is funny if a bit too self-sat­is­fied. Still, there’s some­thing to of­fend every­one, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

NO­BODY WOULD deny that Bo­rat, Sacha Baron Co­hen’s smash from 2007, was – or then seemed to be – one of a kind. El­e­ments of real life had crept into come­dies be­fore, but no­body else had man­aged to gen­er­ate so much ex­cru­ci­at­ing laugh­ter by point­ing a fic­tional mo­ron at mem­bers of the pub­lic. Most im­pres­sively, it felt like a real film with a mid­dle that ac­tu­ally came af­ter the beginning and be­fore the end. We had never seen its like be­fore and we would never see its like again.

That’s not quite how things have worked out. It would, I sup­pose, be fair to point out that the come­dies of, say, Char­lie Chap­lin and WC Fields tended to obey their own rigid con­ven­tions, but, with the un­de­ni­ably hi­lar­i­ous Brüno, Sacha Baron Co­hen has prac­ti­cally re­made Bo­rat.

His hero this time is a flam­boy­antly gay Aus­trian fash­ion­ista rather than a Kaza­khstani re­porter. Ev­ery­thing else is pretty much as be­fore. The char­ac­ter and his side­kick travel to the United States. They con­front hill­bil­lies and per­suade them to re­veal their prej­u­dices in the most ab­surd man­ner. He comes per­ilously close to in­dulging in – as op­posed to par­o­dy­ing – neg­a­tive stereotypes, but every­one laughs any­way.

Yes, ev­ery­body does laugh. Any film that can cause you to plas­ter both hands over your face and curl un­com­fort­ably be­neath the seat must be re­garded a suc­cess. Cower as Paula Ab­dul ac­cepts Brüno’s of­fer to use crouch­ing Mex­i­cans as chairs and cof­fee ta­bles. Squirm as he adopts an African baby and, to screams of hor­ror from a largely African-Amer­i­can talk-show au­di­ence, an­nounces that the young­ster has been chris­tened “OJ”. Watch in dis­com­fort as he and his (male) as­sis­tant get it on be­fore a crowd that has gath­ered to watch a cage-fight­ing event.

As with Bo­rat, laughs are gen­er­ated as much by the char­ac­ter him­self as by un­for­tu­nate cit­i­zens’ re­ac­tions to his ap­palling be­hav­iour. In­ter­est­ingly, sen­si­tive Aus­tri­ans may have more cause for com­plaint than eas­ily of­fended gay folk.

Grant­ing his char­ac­ter one of those hideous, mid-At­lantic, MTV Europe ac­cents, Baron Co­hen of­fers a se­ries of Ger­manic gags that might give even Basil Fawlty pause for thought. He refers to one of the world’s big­gest movie stars as Bradolf Pit­tler. He feels that the most fa­mous Aus­trian of the 20th Cen­tury was mis­un­der­stood. It hardly needs to be said what he does when asked to salute. Such is the na­ture of iden­tity pol­i­tics that the film would never, surely, have made it onto screen if Aus­tri­ans were an op­pressed mi­nor­ity in the US.

So there is plenty of good, du­bi­ous fun to be had. Why, then, does Brüno (and Brüno) feel that bit less sat­is­fac­tory than his (and its) pre­de­ces­sor? The nov­elty of the for­mat has worn off, but there’s more to it than that.

For a start, the Aus­trian man­ages the not in­con­sid­er­able feat of be­ing even less well de­vel­oped than the Kaza­khstani. Bo­rat had a strain of sweet­ness be­neath the id­iocy, whereas Brüno is noth­ing more than an ig­no­rant oik who de­serves the worst that comes to him.

More dam­ag­ingly, a strain of self-con­grat­u­la­tion has crept in, and the film now seems faintly in awe of – rather than prop­erly re­pulsed by – the vul­gar­i­ties of celebrity. Some news­pa­pers have tried to stir up pub­lic fury at the in­clu­sion of twirling penises and group sex in a 16 cert pic­ture. Th­ese vis­tas are, how­ever, less dis­turb­ing than the sight of Bono, Sting, El­ton John and Chris Martin turn­ing up to be “good sports” for a pas­tiche char­ity sin­gle.

The news that Baron Co­hen has gone from ridi­cul­ing fa­mous peo­ple as Ali G to in­dulging them as Brüno pro­vides in­con­tro­vert­ible ev­i­dence that the time has come for a change of di­rec­tion.

Brüno is a funny film. But that’s enough, danke.


See­ing is be­liev­ing: Sacha Baron Co­hen as Brüno


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