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Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film divides the gay community

Sacha Baron Cohen portrays the title character in “Bruno.” Universal Pictures (Universal Pictures / The Spokesman-Review)
Sacha Baron Cohen portrays the title character in “Bruno.” Universal Pictures (Universal Pictures / The Spokesman-Review)

Among those poised to get lathered up over “Bruno” – comic-critic Sacha Baron Cohen’s new exercise in carefully calibrated bad taste – are Jews, blacks, hunters, wrestling fans, the military, Austrians, Hamas, Ron Paul and people who watch daytime talk shows. Oh yes, and gays.

In his follow-up to the wildly successful and outrageous “Borat,” Cohen has again made a movie whose notoriety precedes it.

And one which has the homosexual community feeling particularly anxious: Its title character, first seen on “Da Ali G Show,” is a flamboyantly homosexual fashionista who wants to be “the biggest Austrian superstar since Adolf Hitler.”

What’s more of a legitimate concern for gays – and not just gays, of course – isn’t Cohen caricature of Bruno’s sexuality, but how that portrayal will be received by the less-than-brilliant. Opinion is all over the map.

“Those of us at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation who saw ‘Bruno’ agreed that it’s not really helpful to try to critique this as a single film,” said GLAAD’s senior director of media programs, Rashad Robinson, in a prepared statement.

“It’s really a 90-minute series of sketches – some of which hit their mark, but some of which hit our community instead, and in ways that feel fundamentally antithetical to the intentions of the filmmakers.”

“I thought it was uneven and thin, but very funny, and I loved the various set pieces involving outrageous sex,” said gay Village Voice columnist Michael Musto.

A steamy hot-tub shot is one of those instances in the film that purposely takes what are presumed to be straight perceptions of the gay sex life and explodes them beyond recognition. Will straight audiences understand the overstatement?

“I think it’s a very, very gay movie,” said Corey Scholibo, arts-entertainment editor for the gay-centric Advocate magazine. “And I think gay people, when they see this film, are going to feel it’s a movie that was made for them.”

But even while thinking “Bruno” was “hilarious” (“I spit my water out”), Scholibo said his personal jury is still out regarding the film and the larger straight population.

“I think young straight men who aren’t gay-positive will be going to ‘Bruno’ and laugh at it,” he said. “Whether or not, in the process, Cohen in some genius way undermines any of their fears – which is a very real possibility – that would be great. Or will they be laughing at the silly queers?

“… I don’t know how it’s going to play out, especially at a very heated time about gay rights in the United States.”

Same-sex marriage. Benefits for federal workers. Don’t ask-don’t tell. Ongoing violence against gays. The issues are ripe, and defensiveness is understandable, even if most agree the enemy isn’t Cohen.

“I think there’s far more of a danger of homophobia being exacerbated by the religious right and elected officials who push inequality,” said David Kilmnick, CEO of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth.

“I’m not offended by it,” he said of “Bruno,” adding: “It’s in line with the type of films (Cohen) makes, so it’s not anything out of the ordinary. He’s trying to get a reaction out of people about different things.

“If you laugh at ’Family Guy,’ if you laugh at ’South Park,’ all these shows, they really have the message of how ridiculous all this stuff is,” said Kilmnick.

“I think it’s important in life when you’re dealing with the daily struggles of inequality that you take a second to sit back and laugh. That’s always been the medicine for those who’ve been oppressed.”

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