Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

One of the most hyped movies of the year, Brüno arrives on our screens amid a blaze of publicity entirely appropriate to the lifestyle of its eponymous star. He's a fashion icon whose fall from grace after an unfortunate incident on a catwalk with a velcro suit leads him to try and reinvent himself, heading, as so many have done, to the bright lights of L.A, where he is sure he can become world famous.

There he takes a shot at becoming a movie star, at interviewing celebrities, at making a hit TV show and appearing on a chat show. There's a brief detour to the Middle East where he attempts to establish world peace, successfully getting leading Palestinian and Israeli spokespeople to agree that they both like hummus; he adopts an African baby; and he further explores the underbelly of American society previously exposed in Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan.

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If Brüno is the gay Borat, he has also been accused of being Borat-lite. This isn't really fair as, whilst this film struggles to attain the heights (or lows) of its predecessor, it's a strong piece of cinema in its own right. Part of the problem is that it's spot on with references many viewers won't get, drawing a lot of its humour directly from queer subcultures. In doing this it's no more offensive to gay people than Borat was to the people of Kazakhstan (where it became a huge hit); it's affectionately critical; Baron-Cohen has worked hard to attain the status of an insider whose comment seems entirely fair. For straight viewers, however, some of it may be a bit obscure.

That doesn't mean there's a shortage of laughs, which begin the moment the opening credits roll. Like Borat, Brüno is essentially a loveable innocent whose delusions of self-importance don't make it any harder to root for him as he finds himself caught up in a landscape of American prejudice. Whilst filmmakers like Michael Moore increasingly alienate unsympathetic viewers with their critiques of US society, Baron-Cohen uses humour to draw viewers in and then lets the flaws expose themselves.

For viewers not used to dealing directly with homophobia, some of this will be as revealing as our hero's costumes. It all builds up to a spectacular cage fight sequence in which we see how many people think it's fine to watch two men beat each other up, no holds barred, but are horrified by the thought of them kissing. Here once again Baron-Cohen reveals a willingness to place himself in considerable personal danger for the sake of his art.

If all this sounds a bit much, or if you're dismayed at the idea of seeing Baron-Cohen in tight lycra, in bondage, or performing the kind of sex acts that only really exist in the fevered imaginations of the most outspoken homophobes, Brüno may not be for you. A lot of the humour here is genuinely edgy and will offend some viewers, but it has a purpose, as when our hero manages to resensitise a talk show audience who doubtless thought they'd seen it all.

It's a shame we don't get to see the Michael Jackson sequence which was cut out by nervous distributors after the star's death. But at least some of the stars are ready to join in the fun, with Bono, Chris Martin, Elton John and Slash (of the once famously homophobic Guns n' Roses) joining Brüno for a final song. As a critique of celebrity hype it couldn't be more timely. As a pointed look at the prejudice still faced by gay people in America, it rightly sets a few noses out of joint.

Reviewed on: 10 Jul 2009
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An Austrian gay fashion icon endeavours to become world famous.
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Director: Larry Charles

Writer: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Clifford Bañagale

Year: 2009

Runtime: 83 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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