Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking hit British theatre like a…
BBC 5Live asked me to review Bruno on their breakfast show last Saturday morning. They wanted to gauge if the film was homophobic or offensive in any way- but from a gay perspective. I took extensive notes, discussed the film with random members of the audience and gave it more thought than my ‘A’ level Philosophy exam.
I was live on air, for approximately 1 minute.
First up, is it any good? Yes, it’s clever, occasionally gross and often quite brave, but it’s nowhere near as funny, nor groundbreaking as Borat. Unfortunately, post-Borat, we’re familiar with the format. The film is a series of embarrassing, socially uncomfortable scenarios with Bruno as the protagonist and someone stupid/homophobic/humourless as the ‘victim’. While amusing, these vignettes don’t always hit the target.
Firstly, Bruno is a less sympathetic character than Borat, who was naïve, ignorant and the apparent product of an almost medieval culture. Bruno is shallow, sexually voracious and a little bit creepy. When people respond in a negative way towards him, it’s not always fuelled by homophobia, but by the fact that he’s rude, confrontational and downright weird.
It’s consistently hilarious that seemingly rational people don’t clock that Bruno’s gay. Had the character been a screamingly camp American, there would have been fewer opportunities for Bruno. The fact is, he’s given the benefit of the doubt because most people he encounters seem to have no idea how an Austrian looks or behaves, so they endure his idiosyncrasies for that bit longer.
There’s been an awful lot of press banging on about how shocking, outrageous and graphic the film is. Er, people? You need to get out more. If you’ve ever wandered into an Ann Summers store or watched a porn film, there’s nothing in this film that should surprise you. However, it’s interesting to observe how an audience reacts in a public place. In one scene, Bruno swings his penis about. I understand that amongst male strippers, the move is called ‘the helicopter’. Don’t ask.
Anyway, the sight of a reasonably large pork sword drew a gasp of disgust from the men in the audience who loudly groaned ‘ugh’ in disgusted unison. If they were watching at home alone, would they have voiced their disapproval in such a loud fashion? Unlikely. This was chest-puffing machismo in action. Straight men obviously feel the need to loudly declare horror at the sight of a dick.
Scared to look
Any other response, even quiet observation, might draw accusations of homosexuality, perhaps from themselves, if not from their peers. Oh, but you rarely see a penis on telly or in films, they say. We’re not used to seeing them, let alone swinging around like that. Okay, and when you get in the shower, do you never look down? Are you scared that looking at your own penis, let alone anyone else’s, might make you a bender? Er, guys? Grow up.
It’s that kind of stupidity that Baron-Cohen is highlighting in this film. There’s no doubt Baron-Cohen is a comedy genius and a daring performer. Dressing up in pseudo-Orthodox-gay drag and swishing through Jerusalem, only to be chased by demented elders is a bold and amusing stunt…and it’s not unique in its bravery. However, I was left thinking that the stunt he pulled with Eminem at the MTV awards almost eclipses the entire movie. That spectacular act was a piece of PR brilliance.
Kicked to death
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has issued a statement from incoming President Jarrett Barrios in response to Brüno, which stomped the box office both here and in the US last weekend. It’s quite long winded, but their bone is that the film’s stereotyping won’t help the LGBT youth who’re either topping themselves or being kicked to death by bullies at school. GLAAD have a point, but they’re off target. I don’t doubt that effeminate kids or just unique loners will get called ‘Bruno’ at school. But, if it ain’t Bruno, it’ll be something else, probably worse. The problem isn’t this film, it’s a society that refuses to teach teens that being gay is okay.
It’s just been announced that studio bosses have cut the rudest scenes from Bruno to give it a 15 certificate. Universal Pictures have re-edited the film, meaning it will become the first to have two versions running in tandem when the 15-cert is released on July 24.
Bruno proved to be an entertaining film, thought provoking and occasionaly admirable, but it’s not the funniest film this year. While I laughed often and was in no way offended, there’s no denying it’s slightly less funny if you’re gay.
First published: TheHospitalClub.com