Have you ever been at a polite dinner party and heard, in an exquisitely timed moment of silence, a loud, rasping fart erupt from one of the guests? The ensuing moment is ripe–with feeling. Oh my god, did everyone just hear that? How embarrassing!–for the offender, certainly, and, weirdly, for everyone else as well. Faces flush, molting through a welter of expressions: shock, disgust, feigned ignorance, a suppressed smirk. Finally, hopefully, someone breaks the discomfort with a cackle, and the anxiety is swept away with a hearty shared laugh.
Watching Brüno, the British comic Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest mockumentary, is a lot like experiencing that après-fart moment, except it lasts for an excruciating ninety minutes in which the viewer is kept constantly teetering between incredulity, mortification and laughter. It is unpleasant, almost physically painful to watch and also, at times, irresistibly funny. Brüno is a gas!
It is also a whole lot of ass, nipple and cock, especially cocks, which in Brüno come in a variety of forms: flesh and prosthetic, soft and hard, mechanical and human. That’s because Brüno is, among other things, Cohen’s send-up of gay male culture. Like his other alter-egos, Ali G and Borat, Brüno is an exaggeration of an already exaggerated stereotype, in this case, of a gay Austrian fame whore who, having lost his job as a fashion correspondent for the TV program "Funkyzeit," embarks on an odyssey to become "the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler."
Cohen plays Brüno with absolute conviction, as someone utterly genuine about his superficiality, which is to say that Brüno is completely unconvincing as an actual human being, except, of course, to the parade of celebrities, politicians, preachers, agents and just folks Cohen punks along the way. Hence one level of transferred embarrassment cum laughter; you just can’t believe so many people were so wholly duped by so obvious a fabrication–and on camera too!
And so Brüno minces, gyrates, strips, sashays and shantè, shantè, shantès through Hollywood, Israel-Palestine, Africa, Wichita, an Alabama military base, ex-gay therapy, a swingers’ sex party and a Sherman Oaks salon named Pink Cheeks that specializes in a beautifying treatment known as "anal bleaching." Needless to say, this is not a movie for those with delicate sensibilities.