Sitting down in the living room for dinner earlier this week, my housemates and I found ourselves watching Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2009 hit Brüno. Subjecting ourselves to the full two hours of the mockumentary, it became pretty obvious that we had chosen the wrong movie to eat a meal to. Having not seen the film since I was 13, I found that the movie had a lasting impact through the week, laughing hours later as I thought of scenes in the film.
How Cohen gets away with returning to the US is beyond me. I get that the US is a large country, but Cohen seems to return over and over to play slightly different eccentric and outrageous characters with little to no recognition among the audience of his true persona. Granted, we never see the shots that didn’t make the cut in which he could have been recognised, but that fact that Cohen was able to obtain two hours of footage in which people believed he was a queer Austrian fashion designer amazes me.
I can’t help but think that Cohen keeps returning to the US because of the extreme reactions, international intrigue with the country, and the willingness of Americans to accept his characters on face value. I find the last reason to be slightly endearing to Americans. While it has led to their embarrassment and humiliation many times in the film, it’s obvious that most of the audience and victims of Cohen’s pranks are led into his trap due to their naivety rather than any sort of ill will. Of course, this is not always true, and the extreme attitudes Cohen captured from gay conversion therapists and the memorable ‘Straight Dave’s Man Slamming Maxout’ presented a horrendous side of America’s cultural intolerances.
Has Brüno aged well? Having last watched it nearly a decade ago, I found that the film was just as funny, if not funnier this time around. I have a different sense of humour from most and I understand that some, if not most people, would find the movie vulgar, offensive, and distasteful. This is not the sort of movie that I would recommend to my parents. Even with his ironic intent, others may find Cohen’s impression of homosexuality offensive, and Central Europeans (mostly Austrians) could take issue with his characterisation of their country and culture.
Regardless, the film remains neutral, neither getting better nor worse with age. The criticisms above are exactly the same as the criticism the film received in 2009, and it intentionally promotes controversy then and now. Its commentary regarding American attitudes towards issues like race and homosexuality are still significant today, especially as American society seems to be breaking down on many of the fault lines Cohen explores in the film.