Is Bruno the feel-good movie of the year for gay-bashers? Or a militantly pro-tolerance film that channels the creative juices of Don Rickles and his Jewish comedy predecessors?
Universal Pictures has put an embargo on reviews until the day before the film’s July 10 release, but pundits have been lining up on both sides of the issue for months: Either the mock documentary will do more to sway viewers to support gay marriage than any other pop culture event of 2009—or it will do just the opposite.
Complicating matters is that “Bruno” is very, very funny – more hilarious even than “Borat;” audience members at a recent preview screening howled with laughter at many of Sacha Baron Cohen’s antics. Especially sidesplitting were his attempts to become a Middle East peacemaker: He confuses the words “hummus” with “Hamas” in a dialogue between an ex-Mossad chief and an Arab leader, prompting the exasperated Palestinian to explain of hummus: “We eat it. They eat it. It’s vegetarian, healthy.” Upon which a triumphant Bruno declares, “So you both can agree on that?”
On the one hand, it is amusing to watch the flamboyantly gay fashionista frolicking through an Orthodox neighborhood, causing furious residents to chase him down the street—one of them with an enormous tallit flapping over his head. On the other hand, the film’s cliched depictions have led one gay leader to remark that the movie literally made him feel sick to his stomach.
At a time when many Americans still believe that gays and lesbians should not become parents, Bruno adopts an African-American baby as a kind of publicity stunt. On a talk show, the fashionista says he gave the child “a traditional African name…O.J.” and other scenarios show him rocking the child’s cradle with a dildo apparatus – and worse.
The debate has been raging even within gay circles as to whether “Bruno” can be compared to blackface; whether it exposes the viciousness of the gay-bashers or perpetuates harmful stereotyping just as Californians are steeling themselves for yet another battle on the gay marriage front. Let’s not forget that the release date comes as the United States District Court is hearing arguments to suspend or overturn Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage and was an emotional issue within and without the Jewish community.
Rolling Stone (which received clearance to publish an early review) has pronounced the film a Swiftian satire that “uses humor to draw blood” and serves as a “comic call to arms.”
Reshoots apparently have helped; the filmmakers “significantly reworked” the comedy after insiders from the Hollywood gay community expressed dismay upon viewing an earlier version, Movieline reported. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: In the previous version, Bruno and his smitten, spurned assistant, Lutz, reunite and find themselves inside an Arkansas cage match, where they begin making out as the hateful audience hurls insults and chairs at the couple. The next scene shows Bruno and Lutz at a press conference where they are announcing their nuptials (or plans to marry); but the Arkansas attack has left Lutz “drooling, seemingly brain-damaged, and in a wheelchair, played for laughs,” the writer-director Richard Day (“Arrested Development,” “Ellen”) told Movieline.
In the cut I saw recently, the ending was significantly different. Bruno and Lutz do passionately (and explicitly) kiss and grind in the cage but escape injury; they go on to embrace their union and to happily settle down with their adopted African-American son. The film ends as Bruno sings an anthem for gay rights with a star-studded musical cast including Elton John and Snoop Dogg, who pronounces that Bruno is gay and that’s “OK.”