Brüno is a 2009 British-American mockumentary comedy film directed by Larry Charles and starring Sacha Baron Cohen, who produced, co-wrote, and played the gay Austrian fashion journalist Brüno. It is the third film based on one of Cohen's characters from Da Ali G Show; the first were Ali G Indahouse and Borat.
Gay Austrian fashion reporter Brüno Gehard is fired from his own television show, Funkyzeit mit Brüno (Funkytime with Brüno) after disrupting a Milan Fashion week catwalk (whose audience included Paul McCartney), and his lover Diesel leaves him for another man. Accompanied by his assistant's assistant, Lutz, he travels to the United States to become "the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler".
Brüno unsuccessfully attempts an acting career as an extra on NBC's Medium. He then interviews Paula Abdul, using "Mexican chair-people" in place of furniture (Abdul goes along with everything, explaining how she aspires to help people, until a naked man, adorned with sushi, is wheeled into the room). He then produces a celebrity interview pilot, showing him dancing erotically, criticizing Jamie Lynn Spears' fetus with reality TV star Brittny Gastineau, unsuccessfully attempting to "interview" actor Harrison Ford, and closing with a close-up of his penis being swung around by pelvic gyrations. A focus group reviewing the pilot hate it, calling it "worse than cancer". Brüno then decides to make a sex tape, thus he then interviews Ron Paul, claiming to have mistaken him for drag queen RuPaul. While waiting in a hotel room with Paul, Brüno flirts with him before undressing, causing Paul to leave angrily and call him "queerer than the blazes".
Brüno consults a spiritualist to contact the deceased Rob Pilatus of Milli Vanilli (a former lover) for advice, miming various sex acts on the invisible "Pilatus". He consults charity PR consultants Nicole and Suzanne DeFosset to select a world problem to maximize his fame, choosing the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. He flies to Jerusalem to interview former Mossad agent Yossi Alpher and Palestinian politician Ghassan Khatib and confuses hummus and Hamas. In an interview with Israeli and Palestinian professors he sings his own "Dove of Peace" while cajoling the two to caress each other's hands. He also meets with Ayman Abu Aita, a "terrorist group leader, Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades" in a location described as a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, where he hopes to be kidnapped. Brüno insults Abu Aita's hair then says that "King Osama" looks like a dirty wizard or a homeless Santa Claus. Abu Aita's translator orders Brüno to leave. He stops off in Nairobi to pick up a few things, including a child, saying he is "black gold".
Brüno interviews parents of child models, asking if their toddlers would be ready to lose weight, undergo liposuction, operate "antiquated heavy machinery" or "amateur science", or dress in Nazi uniforms. On a talk show hosted by Richard Bey, he shows the African American audience a baby he named O.J., whom he acquired in Africa by "swapping him" for a U2 Product Red iPod. He shows photographs of the boy covered with bees, on a crucifix and in a Jacuzzi next to male adults in a 69 position. The audience is appalled and social services take the baby from Brüno, driving him to depression. He goes to a diner to gorge on high-carb junk food. Lutz carries him back to a hotel room. After a night of sex, they awake to find themselves trapped in a bondage mechanism, unable to find the key. They call a hotel engineer for help and are asked to leave. After accosting a group of anti-gay protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church while still in bondage gear and boarding a bus, Brüno and Lutz remove their equipment at Madison County Office of Alternative Sentencing and Release in Huntsville, Alabama. After being arrested, Lutz says he loves Brüno, but Brüno tells him he does not love him, having been influenced by "carb goggles". Lutz leaves Brüno.
After realizing the biggest names in Hollywood are straight (citing Tom Cruise, Kevin Spacey, and John Travolta), Brüno consults two gay converters to help him become heterosexual. He attempts activities, such as learning karate, joining the National Guard, going hunting in Alabama, and attending a swingers party at which he is whipped by a dominatrix.
Eight months later, a now-heterosexual Brüno, under the alias "Straight Dave", hosts a cage-fight match in Arkansas, "Straight Dave's Man Slammin' Maxout". Lutz appears at the event and calls Brüno a "faggot". The two fight, only to rekindle their love, making out and stripping in front of the shocked spectators who throw objects into the cage. The clip gets international press and the now-famous Brüno attempts to marry Lutz and gets O.J. back in exchange for a MacBook Pro. Brüno records a charity song, "Dove of Peace", featuring Bono, Elton John (seated at a piano on a Mexican "chair-person"), Chris Martin, Snoop Dogg, Sting, and Slash, at Abbey Road Studios.
- Sacha Baron Cohen as Brüno Gehard
- Gustaf Hammarsten as Lutz "Garry" Schulz
- Clifford Bañagale as Diesel Ramirez
- Gary Williams as the spiritualist
- Michelle McLaren as the dominatrix
- Chibundu and Chigozie Orukwowu as O.J.
- Josh Meyers as Kookus Mansfield
- Miguel Sandoval as himself / D.A. Manuel Devalos
- Cameos as themselves
During Baron Cohen's Middle East interview of Alpher and Khatib, he repeatedly conflated Hamas and hummus and feigned belief that the conflict was between Jews and Hindus. The two interviewees (who had received a fee to appear on camera), convinced by the elaborate production, were confused by the questions but generally went along, even when asked by Baron Cohen to hold hands.
On June 6, 2008, a riot ensued at a stunt orchestrated by Baron Cohen and the producers of the film as they staged a "Blue Collar Brawlin'" in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Patrons were lured to an event billed as cage fighting, held at a convention center, by print and Craigslist advertisements, promoting "hot girls", $1 beer, and $5 admission. Approximately 1,500 people attended the event and were greeted by signs that informed them that they were being filmed. No mobile phones, video, or cameras were allowed inside. The acts taking place became homosexual in nature, with Brüno inviting a man up to fight him, who turned out to be Lutz. Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" started to play as both men began kissing and stripping. The audience reacted violently and threw chairs and beer at the performers. The performers were Brüno (Baron Cohen) under the ironic gimmick, "Straight Dave", and Gustaf Hammarsten portraying his opponent, Lutz.
In July 2008, Tyler, Texas television station KETK-TV was approached by a "documentary filmmaker" who was allowed to bring a crew to interview a few members of the staff, including news director Neal Barton and sports director Danny Elzner. They signed releases and expected to be talking about small-town news in the United States. Instead, the interviews conducted by the flamboyant Brüno character drifted towards the topic of homosexuality.
In September 2008, video and photographs were released showing Baron Cohen (as Brüno) storming the catwalk with objects on his velcro outfit during an Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada fashion show in Milan (at which Paul McCartney also was present). Baron Cohen managed to walk down the runway for a few moments before lights were dimmed and security guards escorted him away. This occurred after Baron Cohen and his crew were allegedly stopped by security while attempting to enter back-stage at two other shows during Milan's fashion week.
On November 7, 2008, while appearing as an extra in a scene for the NBC TV series Medium, Baron Cohen interrupted a scene in character and was removed from the set. Production on the episode was shut down temporarily, though actor Miguel Sandoval, who was told that a cousin of NBC executive Ben Silverman would appear as an extra in the jury, has stated that he recognized Baron Cohen and played along, commenting, "It's one thing for Borat to go into an antique store in Georgia or Alabama. For Brüno to go on a TV show, he's among insiders. Most people knew who he was."
The production team also deceived presidential candidate Ron Paul into being interviewed by Brüno by posing as an Austrian television reporter looking to question the congressman about economic issues. As soon as Brüno drops his trousers, the congressman storms out of the room. A spokeswoman for Paul commented on the incident. She said Baron Cohen's people were very deceptive in their tactics. At the time, he thought they were "legitimate" but later confessed to some concern. "I'm familiar with his work, so you can imagine how I feel about it," he said. Jesse Benton, senior vice-president of Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty organization and former campaign spokesman for Paul, said Paul was not familiar with Baron Cohen's programme, Da Ali G Show. "If it's not on hard-core financial news, he doesn't follow it," Benton said. But, he added, "It sounds like it's going to be pretty funny."
The scene filmed during a taping of The Richard Bey Show, however, was staged, and Bey was in on the joke, as his daytime show went off the air in 1996. The audience, however, was not made aware of the truth of the production. Similarly unaware of the true nature of the production was Paula Abdul, who, during her interview scene in the film, sat atop a Mexican landscaper and was presented with food adorned upon a man lying down on a cart wearing nothing but a "sock" over his penis. Abdul told a radio interviewer that she was "scarred" by the incident.
Baron Cohen suffered a severe reaction to hydrogen peroxide after bleaching his anus in preparation for the role of Brüno. Although the incident temporarily slowed the production of the film, he suffered no long-lasting injuries.
The trailers for the film shown in the U.S. included a scene in which Brüno shops for clothing at Sears, telling the sales clerk "You might find this very hard to believe, but I'm gay" to which the clerk responds "Okay", while maintaining an awkward posture.
Michael Jackson incident
Following the sudden death of Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009, a scene from Brüno was hastily removed from the US theatrical version of the film before its Hollywood premiere later that evening. The scene involved Brüno tricking La Toya Jackson into an interview in which he asked her to take a seat on hunched over Mexican workers substituting for chairs and invited her to eat sushi from the torso of an overweight and hairy naked man. In a ploy to get Michael's phone number, Brüno asked La Toya to let him look at her mobile phone, which she complied with.
The latter part of this scene was later confirmed to be removed from the film permanently (about the phone number, but "the Mexicans as furniture scene" was included until the food is served on a naked man, at a SVT Swedish television broadcast of the film, February 2014), but is included in the DVD and Blu-ray release's special features. Coincidentally, the Brüno premiere's red carpet also temporarily covered Michael Jackson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; fans formed a vigil at the star for the radio commentator also named Michael Jackson instead.
Though the film was originally slated for a May 15, 2009 release, the release was later moved to July 10, 2009. The film received an early release in Australia, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Iceland on July 8 and in Germany, Greece, Ireland, Serbia, Slovenia, Israel, and Bosnia and Herzegovina on July 9, 2009. The film was then released internationally on July 10.
In a staged publicity stunt at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards, Baron Cohen appeared as Brüno to present the award for Best Male Performer. Dressed as a winged angel wearing a jockstrap and white go-go boots, he was suspended on wires and flew over the audience towards the stage, but fell and landed on rapper Eminem, with his head in Eminem's lap and his buttocks in front of Eminem's face. Eminem shouted, "Are you fucking serious?" and, "Get this motherfucker off me!", Eminem and his entourage then walked out of the show and did not return. It was later revealed that Eminem and Baron Cohen had staged the incident, rehearsing it beforehand to make sure it went off without a hitch, and leaving Eminem laughing to himself in his hotel room about how the crowd was easily fooled.
Ban in Ukraine
In Ukraine, the film was scheduled to premiere on July 23, but on July 14, the Minister of Culture and Tourism of Ukraine decided to ban the distribution and demonstration of the film in the country. The reason for the prohibition was that nine out of fourteen experts of a commission of experts said the film contained "obscene language, homosexual scenes, and other scenes of offensive nature never shown in Ukraine." The "Vinnytsia Human Rights Group" immediately expressed its anger with the ban. An unofficial premiere of the film in Kiev on July 22, 2009 was disrupted by a smoke bomb.
Brüno opened with $30,619,130, ranking number one in its first weekend. At the end of its run on August 20, it had grossed $60,054,530 in the United States and Canada and $78,751,301 overseas for a worldwide total of $138,805,831. For its opening weekend, it narrowly beat Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (in its second week of release) for the highest gross, in the lowest attended second-weekend-in-July in 18 years.
Metacritic gives Brüno an average score of 54, suggesting "mixed or average reviews". However, it currently holds a 68% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 215 reviews, with the critics consensus: "Crude and offensive, but with ample cultural insights and gut-busting laughs, Bruno is another outlandish and entertaining mockumentary from Sacha Baron Cohen.".
Nick Curtis of the Evening Standard wrote that Brüno is "funnier, more offensive, and more outrageous than Borat". The Telegraph gave the film four stars out of four, saying "impossible not to laugh and also praising Brüno's controversial style of comedy." The BBC also gave the film a positive review, saying "Brüno pushes the boundaries further than Borat ever did." However, they also said that "It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea" due to the offensive nature of the film. Roger Ebert awarded the film three and a half out of four stars, and said "Here is a film that is 82 minutes long and doesn't contain 30 boring seconds", although he noted that the film's R rating was "very, very hard".
Andy Lowe from Total Film gave it a lower review, giving it three stars out of five and calling it "as phony and frustrating as it is funny... The clothes may be new and more fabulous, but the emperor seriously needs to go shopping." Others felt it was not as good, feeling it would insult and offend the gay community: A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote that the film shows "that lampooning homophobia has become an acceptable, almost unavoidable form of homophobic humor," and called the film "a lazy piece of work that panders more than it provokes." At the Movies critic Ben Mankiewicz criticized the film for being too demeaning and playing on homosexual stereotypes. He later named Brüno the worst film at the halfway point of 2009.
Reception in Austria
While Borat was criticised in Kazakhstan, Austrians were generally positive about Brüno. Others regarded the humour as "pretty average" and "inoffensive to Austria". Within the Austrian press, reactions were generally mild and positive, although the film was also labelled "repetitive". Christian Fuchs, from the Austrian radio station FM4, wrote that "hidden beneath the hard-as-nails satirist Cohen, lies a humanist who enlightens." However, the film also met some opposition in Austria, due to its portrayal of homosexuality, and basing the portrayal of Austria on motifs such as Josef Fritzl and Hitler, even going as far as calling Mel Gibson "der Führer" as he pointed at the actor/director's photo in the film.
Some LGBT groups have criticised the character as perpetuating LGBT stereotypes while simultaneously enlightening institutionalised homophobia issues. "Sacha Baron Cohen's well-meaning attempt at satire is problematic in many places and outright offensive in others," Rashad Robinson, senior director of media programs for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) told The New York Times.
An alternative title for the film is Brüno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt. It was initially a mock title proposed by Hollywood news and gossip blog Defamer and mistakenly reported as genuine by a number of sources of film information, including MovieTome, where it is still used in the search results, the Daily Star, The Irish Times, The Boston Globe, and (although no longer) the Internet Movie Database. However, the official Brüno website lists the extended 'title' in its metadata.
Ayman Abu Aita lawsuit and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades
On 2 December 2009, it was reported that Ayman Abu Aita, who , was filing a lawsuit of $110 million in libel damages for defamation. Ayman Abu Aita was identified in the film as a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Abu Aita says that he was never a member of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and was tricked into appearing in the film. In an interview with Time, Abu Aita stated, "It is true that I was jailed in 2003...I was active in resisting the occupation, in non-violent ways."
Baron Cohen claims he set up a meeting with Aita in the West Bank with the help of a CIA agent. According to the lawsuit, however, the interview with Abu Aita took place at a hotel chosen by Baron Cohen and located in a part of the West Bank that was under Israeli military control. The filing of the lawsuit was confirmed at a press conference on 2 December 2009. Included in the lawsuit are David Letterman, NBC Universal, CBS, Worldwide Pants, Gannett Company, and Larry Charles. In November 2010, the lawsuit was dismissed in Washington D.C. Court so as to be refiled in the Supreme Court of New York. In July 2012, the lawsuit was reported to have been settled under undisclosed terms.
Baron Cohen has said he had to increase his security detail following death threats from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades after the release of the film. The group was angered by the interview with Abu Aita in which he was linked with the group, an armed wing of the Fatah movement. In a statement to the media, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades denied that Abu Aita was a member and threatened that they "reserve the right to respond in the way we find suitable against this man (Baron Cohen)" and that they feel the segment was "a dirty use of our brother Ayman".
Motion Picture Association of America
On October 11, 2010, it was revealed that the Motion Picture Association of America's Classification and Rating Administration would specifically note in the future which films contained "male nudity". A spokesman said this was in direct response to parental concerns about the content of Brüno.