Film Friday: ‘Bruno’ & ‘I Love You, Beth Cooper’

by W. Andrew Powell

Sacha Baron Cohen as Bruno

Sacha Baron Cohen as Bruno

Opening in theatres today, Sacha Baron Cohen plays the gay Austrian model Bruno on a mission to ambush and outrage the American public. Also opening, Hayden Panettiere stars in the high school comedy, I Love You, Beth Cooper.

This may shock some of you, but I think Sacha Baron Cohen is actually a uniquely gifted actor and comedian. He also has the almost miraculous ability to shock and surprise people again, and again, which comes in handy for his latest comedic foray.

The first time he shocked America was back in 2006 when he stumbled into the country as the somewhat bumbling, socially backwards (and yet oddly likeable) Borat.

Now he’s back, but this time it’s as the unmistakably gay Austrian model, Bruno, who has come to America in search of… well, it hardly even seems to matter.

Once again, Cohen hides his camera crew in plain site, getting the most unbelievable people to appear in his film under the false pretence that they’re actually there for some other insane reason. Playing Bruno as a backwards but oh-so-very gay model, Cohen finds new ways to push everyone’s buttons.

In one scene, Bruno proclaims to a studio audience that he has adopted a baby from Africa, and he’s given him a “traditional African name”… O.J. In another, he has gone to a psychiatrist who believes Bruno wants to become straight somehow.

Essentially, it’s the kind of setup for the film that should remind most audiences that this is a “one trick pony” kind of movie, which consists of a series of gags strung together. The thing is, these films go, Cohen is actually very good at turning emotional button-mashing experiences into a wonderful form of comic mayhem.

Looking at your average critic, I’m not sure many of them are really cut out to review a film like this, at least in my opinion, since Bruno is mostly about gags rather than anything so high-brow as a plot. Edward Douglas of offer some wisdom into the new film though.

“Even more insane and hysterical than Borat,” Douglas writes, “Sacha Baron Cohen’s hilarious follow-up is also far more coherent and effective at using shock factor to get you laughing.”

Meanwhile, a number of critics have some logical points about the new film, all pointing to some flaws that may not matter to everyone.

“Where Borat was an innocent abroad, Brüno is just broad,” Andrew L. Urban wrote for Urban Cinefile. “Sacha Baron Cohen makes Brüno the self centred and self obsessed centre of the film, which is not so much a story as a series of sketches designed to shock, disgust and outrage.”

Continuing that train of thought, Todd McCarthy of Variety wrote, “There is also a pronounced nasty streak to the innumerable provocations staged by the title character that curdles the laughs and wears out the flamboyant Austrian fashionista’s welcome within the picture’s brief 82-minute running time.”

Or, quite simply – as Kirk Honeycutt wrote for the Hollywood Reporter, “We all knew Borat. Borat was a friend of ours. Bruno, you’re no Borat.”

I Love You, Beth Cooper
Lastly, in the comedy I Love You, Beth Cooper, Heroes star Hayden Panettiere is the dreamy Miss. Cooper, the most popular girl in the school and the woman that nerdy Denis Cooverman, played by Paul Rust, openly proclaims his love for during his graduation speech.

I Love You, Beth Cooper was directed by one of my personal favorite filmmakers, the great Chris Columbus, who brought us Home Alone, not to mention Mrs. Doubtfire, two Harry Potter films, and the film adaptation of Rent. The film was also written, interestingly enough, by Larry Doyle, who has contributed to multiple episodes of The Simpsons.

While I’m torn on the casting of Panettiere and Rust, I actually had semi-high hopes for the film. Unfortunately for Columbus and the cast, the critics are painting a clear picture in their reviews. The top critics on rate the film as 13% – clearly on the rotten side of the scale.

As just one example, Scott Foundas of the Village Voice called I Love You, Beth Cooper “[a] joyless, offensively stupid end-of-high-school farce.”

Coming soon…

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (July 15)
Opening next Wednesday, the latest chapter in the Harry Potter film franchise makes it’s dark, and yet oddly comedic debut, with Harry trying to deal with a budding romance, trouble between his friends, and all the turmoil of a school besieged by the evil forces of Lord Voldemort.

The Hurt Locker
Most importantly, I wanted to mention the great upcoming dramatic thriller, The Hurt Locker. Potentially one of this year’s best films, the story revolves around a group of military bomb technicians working in Baghdad to disarm the numerous explosives that threaten the lives of their comrades, and the general public in the war torn city.

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