I LIKED Borat, I did. I laughed out loud, enthusiastically, throughout. I like Ali G too. I get Sacha Baron Cohen’s shtick and I see his genius. At least I did until I sat through Bruno. It was the slowest 80 minutes of my life (rivalled only by the removal of my top left wisdom tooth). I laughed out loud only once and I can’t even remember why.
I gather that the sight of Bruno’s adopted African baby being lifted limply from a box on a luggage conveyor belt, or his pornographic pilot of a celebrity TV show (there is too much of Cohen’s genitalia in Bruno), or his being whipped by an aggressive, naked woman at a swinger’s party in Alabama, or his interactions with Israeli and Palestinian academics, were meant to raise the roof.
For me, it was just one scene of painful, boring unpleasantness after the next. It’s like watching a horrible Mr Bean stumbling through American hicksville (with a stop in the Middle East) with his pants down and the added discomfort of knowing that some people targeted by Bruno don’t know what’s going on. A Hollywood gross-out comedy has landed in a documentary and that makes the viewer’s life difficult.
Baron Cohen has been praised for the gutsy, shameless way in which he reveals scary truths about American society – namely its idiocy and prejudice. Indeed, Borat was a good reminder of how widespread both anti-Semitism and Christian evangelising are in the States, and how gun-happy the society is. Bruno shows that homophobia is also a disappointingly big issue among Bible Belters. As is– understandably – prejudice against an offensive, idiotic, law-breaking sex-maniac.
The gay jokes – and Bruno is basically one long gay joke, with the punchline of repulsive homophobia – is joyless, stressful and ultimately uninteresting to watch.
THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE
PIPPA LEE, magnificently played by Robin Wright Penn, is the beautiful, spacey but efficient wife of a much older man, a publishing bigwig called Herb (played by Alan Arkin). Both began life as characters in director Rebecca Miller’s novel of the same name (Miller is playwright Arthur Miller’s daughter), which was a best-seller in the UK and justifiably so. The story is subtle and absorbing.
The Lees have traded their Manhattan apartment for a house in a leafy Connecticut retirement community following Herb’s three heart attacks. As usual, Pippa has adapted, uncomplainingly. Yet behind the quiet, immaculate exterior, plates are shifting. A chance comment sets her thinking about who she really is. She’s “tired of being an enigma” adored for her lamb dishes, and so embarks on a train of self-discovery that starts with her earliest memories of childhood, and goes through to meeting Herb. What emerges is a rather glamorous, troubled past of sex, drugs and death – a destructive path kick-started by the strains of having a depressive, diet pill-popping mother. Meanwhile, the surface of her life has started to give – her bolshy photojournalist daughter, fresh from Iraq, despises her more than ever. And most disturbingly, a security camera reveals that she is sleep-walking and doing all sorts of odd things in the wee hours.
The past and the present interweave seamlessly – we are just as fascinated by the young Pippa (Blake Lively) as by the mother of two who forms a relationship with oddball neighbout Chris (Keanu Reeves). This is not just a study of a miserable, repressed housewife – and an aimless and ethereally sweet one at that. It’s also about what marriage can do to you, how it can erode slowly and silently, and how you can move on even in middle age. If only more films were this good.