Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
There are always a lot of angry questions bandied about in the wake of any work by Sacha Baron Cohen. But I always wonder most when I hear the complaints that generally amount to this: "Not everyone is smart enough to appreciate the subtleties of his satire, so shouldn't we make sure that no one misinterprets it?"
Is Baron Cohen's Brüno — ostensibly an Austrian fashion guru and TV personality — an outrageous stereotype of homosexuality? Yes, without question. But it's equally apparent that Brüno is not meant to send up homosexuals but to send up narrow-minded bigotry (along with the idiocies of high fashion). The fake working title of this movie, after all, 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, and that's a perfect description.
Baron Cohen's daring and fearlessness as a cultural critic is in grand form here, as it was in Borat, his previous adventure in courting civil lawsuits and physical assaults in the name of lampooning dearly held American virtues such as knee-jerk ignorance and superficiality. This time Brüno travels to Los Angeles after having been dismissed from European fashion circles, in search of fame and fortune, where he finds the natives as shallow and status-obsessed as he is. (If we didn't know such places were real, wouldn't we find the anal-bleaching salon he visits almost too preposterous to believe? Anal? Bleaching? Shudder.)
Perhaps the overarching theme of Brüno is this: There is apparently nothing you can tell Americans that is too outrageous for them to buy into ... for example, that a flamboyant Austrian looking to expand his celebrity would buy a small black child in Africa. But the more important critique isn't one about the credulity of Americans; the real question is, how did we let such a world come to be?
As Brüno cruises Los Angeles and then journeys into middle America, the questions multiply: Why do we accept a world in which people are dehumanized to the point that no one questions babies being used as status symbols, people being used as furniture, and bigotries being used to divide us? Why do we accept a world in which being on camera is so vital that no one — not even those whose reputations could be dinged — does even the slightest research into who is asking for an interview? (C'mon: A quick Google will reveal that the guy is pulling your leg.) Why do we accept a world in which doing good — as for a charity — is turned into good PR?
I don't want to spoil which deserving targets get the Baron Cohen treatment, but I will say this: He is bold as a performer, as a comedian and as a cultural observer. There is no boundary or taboo he will not challenge, and at points his audacity gets damn near profound.
When so many public figures are deliberately shocking and offensive because they want us to join them in being small and mean and petty and tribal — I'm thinking of the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh — Baron Cohen is doing so for the very opposite reasons. And that is a good thing, and a thing very much worth celebrating.
Oh, and it's outrageously funny, too.