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'Bruno': Not funny enough...or too gay?

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Earlier this week, I went to see Bruno again (I thought it was even funnier the second time — there’s so much that’s hilarious around the edges, like the priceless and under-discussed music-video finale, which I’ll talk about in a moment), and on this particular Tuesday night, there were about 50 people in the audience, four of whom got up and left in a righteous huff. It’s been a while since I saw people walk out of a movie because they were offended by it. In this case, it happened during the Dallas talk-show segment, which sort of added to the experience, since in the movie half the studio audience ends up abandoning the show in a high-dudgeon “I’ve had enough!” fit of fury.

The walkouts at my showing — it was at a Times Square megaplex, by the way — echoed reports that people have been walking out of Bruno all over the country, a righteous rejection that squares, frankly, with some of the more vituperative reaction the movie has received on this site. (From the posts on my review: “Bruno is the reason why people don’t like Gay people. Thanks Bruno for sending us back to Stonewall.” “How did this movie get a rating of R? To me this was porn.” “The worst on-screen disaster since Showgirls.”)

Look, it’s one thing to claim that Bruno isn’t funny. But the sheer venom of a lot of the reactions is telling, especially in a culture where deliriously raunchy in-your-face “straight” comedy has become as mainstream as apple pie. (I don’t recall anyone losing their composure about, say, the over-the-top genitalia jokes in Dance Flick, which were pretty damn sick. And amusing.) My point is that the visible hostility to Bruno in certain quarters taps into something quite apart from the issue of whether the picture is funny or not. It’s intolerance masquerading as a judgment of the movie’s humor. And frankly, I don’t think it exactly helped Bruno at the box office.

I didn’t want to reveal that music-video finale in my original review, but it’s a lusciously funny — and, in its way, uplifting — sequence, a star-studded, can’t-we-all-get-along tribute-sendup of “We Are the World” that manages the singular feat of tweaking its own guest talent. Several of the reviews I’ve read have accused Sacha Baron Cohen of using this scene to suck up to the celebrities he once mocked. But those reviewers must have been watching it through fogged glasses. Just check out the way that Baron Cohen gets Bono to do an irritated (and clearly spontaneous) double take, twice, and also the taken-aback reaction of Snoop Dogg, behind his oversize sunglasses, when Bruno suggests that he might just find Snoop…well, go see the movie yourself. And whatever you do, don’t walk out before the end.

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