For Hank Stuever of the Washington Post, Sacha Baron Cohen's latest movie, "Bruno," is a reflection of America's "giant case of sex phobia."
Cohen's movie tells the tale of Bruno, a gay Austrian fashionista who embarks on a quest for fame (to become "the most famous Austrian since Hitler"). Its depictions of gay sex and a gay man flamboyantly flaunting his sexuality caused worry among gay activists about an increase of homophobia, despite a statement from Universal Pictures that the film aimed to "shed light on the absurdity of many kinds of intolerance and ignorance, including homophobia."
Stuever offered Post readers an inside look on July 9 at what it felt like to be a gay man watching "Bruno" and concluded that the movie didn't teach anything "other than sex is basically a total gross out."
He outlined his argument:
After watching Brüno, a character played by Sacha Baron "Borat" Cohen, traipse across America and incite whatever homophobic responses and misadventures he can (especially in such places as Arkansas and Alabama), gays seem ready to accept that "Brüno," which opens tomorrow, will not hinder their hopes for pop-culture progress. Nor is it likely to inspire any. What "Bruno" inspires in gays is a lot of talking and typing and thinking. Here is some more.
"Brüno" gave me a new (and not new) thought about homophobia. The straight people seen in the movie, such as a heterosexual swingers group infiltrated by Brüno, have just as many issues about their orientation and desires as anyone else. Homophobia, schmomophobia. America has a giant case of sex phobia. The bedroom is a bigger hang-up than it's ever been, which is bizarre, after all the supposed revolution we've been through. Gays just happen to be on the unfortunate side of the bed.
We're all afraid of sex. Any kind of sex -- gay, straight, bi, May-December, Michael Jackson, whatever. Forty years of gay rights after the Stonewall Inn riots in New York have not moved actual hot sex forward. In fact, the more political being gay gets, the more afraid everyone gets of sex. So much for liberation. Now we just cringe in movies, waiting to watch straight people laugh and scream and affirm their complete fear of outre carnality.
In his attempt to belittle as cold and frigid those who do not choose to have sexuality flaunted at every turn, Stuever ignored a major point: Cohen's "exposition" of homophobia isn't really an exposition at all.
Newsweek's Ramin Setoodeh argued that "Bruno" is the "most depressing movie of the year" largely because he felt the movies played on gay stereotypes for no other reason than "cheap laughs." Yet he also made the point that the set-ups Cohen used to expose homophobia don't really ring true. After describing a scene in which a naked Bruno wandered into the tents of the "country bumpkins" he was camping with, Setoodeh asked, "Wouldn't you be weirded out too?"
Variety's Todd McCarthy noted a second problem with "Bruno." "But there is also a pronounced nasty streak to the innumerable provocations staged by the title character," he wrote. Gay or straight, audiences don't respond positively to "nasty" characters.
Maybe, as Stuever insisted, Americans are uncomfortable with sex. But they're more uncomfortable with being thrust into bizarre, nasty situations for someone else's amusement.