Sacha Baron Cohen is really a comedic genius. He possesses all of those qualities required to transcend observational humor or mere imitation. Egoless and irreverent while clever and steadfast, Baron Cohen’s willingness to disregard personal identity in favor of whatever role he might be entering is staggering given the fact that his co-actors are the unsuspecting and unprepared. From production to red carpet, he is at the mercy of the character.
In Brüno, Baron Cohen transforms into a clumsy and alienated member of the chic European fashion community. Having once hosted the most popular style-focused television show in all German-speaking countries sans Germany, Brüno comes to America in search of a new audience after being blacklisted in Europe. In true parodic fashion, Brüno is almost all exaggeration. Not only is the character flamboyantly gay but superficial and dim. This allows for far more vulgarity and crudity in the antics that ensue. The fake working title, in fact, was Brüno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt, according to IMDb.com.
Brüno, in many ways, is a great suit for Baron Cohen. While Borat was fairly consistent in his beliefs and cultural ideals, Brüno is more of a blank slate, ready to change if it will bring him attention. Though Brüno and Baron Cohen’s motivations are far different in the end, both observe a willingness to shrug off their selves in order to achieve their goals. Brüno attempts everything from adopting an African baby boy to negotiating peace between Palestinians and Israelis to conversion therapy—all in the hopes of reclaiming the fame he once enjoyed in Europe. And since Baron Cohen is in character and interacting mainly with those that are not, the boundaries between Baron Cohen and Brüno become even blurrier. But that’s an entirely different discussion.
It’s a front, of course, that allows Baron Cohen to extract the vapidity abound in large swaths of the entertainment industry—though no one is really out of his path. With the exception of Brüno’s venture to the Middle East, which momentarily delves in to sheer awkwardness, Brüno’s ability to be too-ridiculous-to-be-believable puts everyone in the hot seat.
In the process, Baron Cohen manages to touch on issues of religion, homophobia and parenting. The issues are pertinent and the reactions he manages to elicit from movie stars and hunters alike are shocking, but not nearly as far-reaching as in Borat.
Comparisons to Borat aside, Brüno is courageous, bold and unequivocally funny. Though it walks a fine line between shock value and statement, and is sure to be seen as immoderately offensive, it always appears purposeful. With Brüno, Baron Cohen once again exposes himself as the consummate provocateur.