Review: A Decidedly Gay take on Brüno
I shall preface this review with a caveat: I went into Brüno expecting to dislike it, and very likely formed my opinion before actually seeing the film. I was dining with a friend a few weeks before Brüno debuted, when he said something along the lines of "can you believe what those gay activists are complaining about with Brüno?" I asked him to elaborate; he said that they did not understand that it was a satire. It appeared that, no matter what protestation I presented, his opinion of their opinion was unswayable; he could simply not understand why on earth someone could be offended by a negative portrayal of them, even if it was satirical in nature. Here are but a few of my defenses, conceived after viewing the movie, for my point of view:
In the beginning scenes of the movie, Brüno and his partner are shown having sex. They are both in full-body jumpsuits with zippers to reveal selective parts of the body. Their sex is depicted as wild—involving slingshots, anal insertion of champagne bottles, and an exercise machine rigged to operate a dildo. None of this is played against any bigots, there is no revelation of Americans' prejudice here, except perhaps with the audience. The entire time the theatre was a chorus of laughter. Not only does the film present gay sexual behavior as deviant and eccentric, but it plays it off for laughter. (An aside—the screen is filled with a penis later on in the film. Once again, there was a chorus of laughter, which began before the 'penis dance' began. Why can an audience not take a penis seriously?)
A couple of scenes in the movie deal with Brüno adopting a child, and having his child be forcefully taken away by the state after he is shown to be an unfit parent. The kid is taken into custody to a chorus of cheers while Brüno tears at the security officers holding him back. This is perhaps the most disturbing part of the movie. This scene, like the rest of the movie, was played off for laughs. This is, however, an incredibly serious and very unfunny issue. The state in which I live, and have been for my entire life a citizen, currently forbids adoption by same-sex couples. If my boyfriend and I were to decided that we wanted to start a family, we would be unable to. Furthermore, if my partner had a child, and he were to pass away, I could not care for this child. I would be in the same situation as Brüno—my adopted child would be forcefully taken away from me. Hilarious, right?
The same applies to the marriage scene at the end of the film—Brüno's partner dresses as a woman to attempt a marriage. This of course fails, to the raucous laughter of the audience. Again, someone please tell me what is hilarious about being stripped of one's right by a vote of one's peers.
Furthermore, the character of Brüno encapsulates a completely irreverent picture of gay men. I fully understand that the character is a parody of gay fashionistas. The problem is that I do not see this undoing any stereotypes. The Alabaman hunters, for instance, have only had their prejudices against gays reinforced by his actions toward them, and his behavior during the ex-gay church scenes completely passes over how psychologically damaging such programs can be. I can easily imagine being a closeted high school student basing some of my ideas on what a gay man should be on Brüno, and forming an identity based on a complete stereotype. I was once told that I was "an insult to homosexuality" because of how un-gay my behavior was. I was peer pressured into acting gayer. In addition, I can just as easily imagine a somewhat feminine but otherwise self-actualized high school student who has had the courage to come out be taunted by bigoted class mates for whatever traits he might have in common with Brüno.
In closing to my disjointed review, I simply wish to say this: For those who say that I have been too easily offended, I want you to imagine that, instead of pretending to be gay, Sacha Baron Cohen had instead donned blackface and highlighted continuing racial tensions in America while attempting to play off the discrimination encountered by African-Americans for laughs.