Well, further to my recent post, I actually went and saw Bruno at the cinema last night. It was Orange Wednesday, nothing else really appealed, we thought ‘why not?’
Did I laugh? Yes. Did I find it funny? Weeellllll….
It is definitely a very odd film. It’s presented, like the original TV skits, as reality – ie, Bruno is a constructed character but the people he interacts with have no idea it’s a set-up. Only… this fairly obviously isn’t the case except for a few notable exceptions (Paula Abdul and Senator Ron Paul are clearly set up and a Dallas based talk show in which he unveils his ‘adopted’ black baby to an audience of African Americans seems convincing). This creates a strange mix of comedy where you’re never sure what is real, what is Curb Your Enthusiasm-style talented actors improvising and what is just completely scripted. The final scene is a bizarre mix of all of these – clearly a real set up situation with a rehearsed and scripted story and obvious actors planted in the audience to make it seem more extreme.
The knowledge that this was so scripted meant that certain laughs it earned for perceived spontaneity quickly faded as you could see a ‘skit’ developing. A scene towards the end of the film at a swingers party would have been incredibly funny had it been at all conceivable that these were real people and not actors. Likewise a scene where he joins the army and incurs the wrath of his commanding officers. The scene could only have been staged. I could be wrong. The one thing I’m certain about was that it FELT staged to FEEL like reality.
I doubt that bothered most of the audience. It felt like they were taking it at face value as real japery. The audience, as I had expected, was what bothered me most of all. Being at the Vue cinema, there was a high chav contingent…
(by the way, what is gong on with chav hair??? Teenage boys walking around with the haircuts of late-middle aged women from the mid-90s!!!! It’s so odd! They all look like Pat Butcher with their coiffured yet soft and downy spiked hair at the back and short-but-swoopy bits at the front. Have traditional gruff barbers had to take on new salon skills or have they been forsaken by these microwaved-burger eating parasites who can now be found sitting in their mum’s hairdressers of choice under those big hair-dryer things ‘reading’ Nuts magazine?)
…and the chavs loved it. Were they laughing at the irony? at the exposure of the ethically bereft? Were they laughing at Sacha Baron Cohen’s deft use of cliche to exacerbate prejudice? I don’t really think they were. It’s an increasing phenomenon in this age of post-modern comedy that ‘edgy’ comedians are taken at non-ironic face value and embraced by an audience they probably weren’t aiming for. This is unavoidable. But it’s horrible. Last year, I watched an ‘Al Murray Pub Landlord’ live DVD. I hadn’t watched his stuff for a good few years and I realised that the Edinburgh Festival style character which slyly mocked middle-England values and Daily Mail bigotry had now taken on the very audience it mocked who hailed him as some kind of ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ hero. The mockery of xenophobic attitudes (which I believe his act is still entirely about – he’s a clever chap) doesn’t make it past the stage and the crowd cheer his racism/sexism/homophobia non-ironically. At times it felt like a BNP rally.
Watching Bruno reminded me so much of watching the Borat film when that came out and being aware that despite failing to be the holding-America-to-shamefest many of were looking forward to, it instead just seemed to give licence to small-minded idiots to laugh at foreigners and say ‘i like to make the sex with you’ and other such pidgin-English hilarities. This time around, I felt Baron Cohen courted this audience far more. There was an awful lot of laughs derived more from the exaggerated gayness of the main character than the reactions he provoked. I could feel an atmosphere in the cinema where it was OK to openly laugh at gay people, licence had been granted and gratefully received and I can well imagine the rat-faced underlings of Oxfordshire taking this out on to the street. And that’s a great shame, I feel.
I think I would have actually hated this film were in not for Sacha Baron Cohen’s unbelievable comic bravado. In my last blog I wrote how I’m not really in the mood to be ‘shocked’ these days. And I’m not. But I think he deserves credit. When most comedians try to shock, they do so my swearing a lot or breaking the naughty taboos such as talking about the handicapped and rape. Baron Cohen will respect no boundary for a laugh and is always prepared to put his own full dignity and safety on the line – from almost constant full-frontal nudity/graphic ‘comedy sex’ to putting himself in public situations where he could, and is, genuinely in physical danger of attack. I’m tempted to say you have to admire his balls but the literal ubiquity of them throughout this film means you really would rather not.
I think he’s an amazingly talented guy and I’d love to see him going in the direction of either more straight (no pun intended) comedy acting or something more akin to The Yes Men where his stunts are elevated beyond dumb pranks into really inspiring thought and social change. The middle ground he currently occupies – despite being doubtlessly profitable – just doesn’t seem right.