Last night my loyal companion Aaron accompanied me to the 7:40pm showing of Bruno at Times Square’s AMC Empire 25, the nation’s busiest movie theater. Folks who tend to call movies “films” like to trumpet their avoidance of the Empire due to its notoriously raucous minority teenage patrons, but I wanted to see the movie with exactly that audience.
Bruno was showing on five screens and our showing was sold out, but even arriving twenty minutes early we still had to take seats in the third row. As expected, the audience was overwhelmingly comprised of black, Latin, and Asian teens and young adults. Aaron guessed their average age to be in the low-20’s.
So here’s the thing. You’ve already seen Bruno, even if you haven’t. There have been so many trailers, so many press stunts, so many alarmed and dismissive reviews – there was little in the film that Aaron and I weren’t already well familiar with. And I’d say that held true for much of the audience, judging by how some of the earliest sketches were greeted with gleeful anticipation. But that high energy seemed to sink after the first reel. I can’t say everybody else was as bored as we were, but judging by the increasing level of cell phone activity by the last quarter of the film, even the kids were grateful for Bruno’s mercifully short 83 minute running time.
Was it funny? Meh. We laughed a couple of times, but most of Bruno features Sasha Baron Cohen’s well-worn “cringe factor” style of interviewing in which you can find yourself, impossibly, feeling bad for his victims. Aaron buried his head on my shoulders during a couple of those scenes.
But the biggest question, “Is Bruno bad for the gay movement?”….well, I just don’t know. There’s lots to object to here; his relentless horniness, his vapid, rude personality, and the tiresome gerbil and dildo jokes. Was the audience at the Empire 25 enlightened about homophobia? Probably not. But will the movie exacerbate any distaste they have for gay people? Again, probably not. I think, I hope, that the reaction to Bruno we witnessed last night was just that of any audience that loves potty humor, embarrassed celebrities, and Jackass-style idiocy. The Punk’d generation, if you will.
After Bruno ended, I waited in a long line for the men’s room and listened to the chatter. I didn’t hear a single anti-gay comment – just some grousing about the fake boobs of the dominatrix and dismissive remarks about how obviously staged some of the scenes were. I’m sure the name “Bruno” will now become frat boy shorthand to describe an effeminate gay man. That’s a given. (But that’s better than “faggot,” most might say.)
But really, Bruno is just dull. It’s Cohen’s one-joke schtick stretched painfully thin with a few “Oh no, he didn’t!” moments to break up the tedium. The part I enjoyed the most was when the above-mentioned dominatrix gave Cohen a real whipping, raising visible welts across his torso. Does that make me homophobic? Cuz I just hated Bruno.