Is it playing up to stereotypes to put Bruno’s failure at the Australian box office down to the same more-than-lingering homophobia that doomed it in the US?

The numbers would suggest so, with ticket sales in both countries following the depressing downward curve set aside for movies that cop a flat ‘don’t see it’ around the watercooler.

The mockumentary opened here July 9 and is largely concerned with putting its title character, a flamboyantly gay Austrian TV presenter, in play opposite unsuspecting rednecks in order to get audiences laughing and/or squirming at flamboyantly gay behaviour.

But after a whopper $8.8 million opening week in Australian cinemas – including a $1.65 million opening day that would have had backers Universal loved up and raving all night to German techno – Bruno fell out of favour fast.

In its second week ticket sales plunged about two thirds, a drop in business close to the humiliating 80 per cent tumble attendance took in the US over the same period.

There’s a strong argument that Bruno is Brit comic Sacha Baron Cohen’s sharpest character yet – edgier and more socially incisive than Borat, with gaudier costuming than Ali G.

Just where the undercurrent that his new film’s ‘not funny’ comes from beats me. Some of the redneck reactions alone are worth the price of a ticket.

Sure it’s a different kind of funny to the much broader Borat, but any movie featuring a talking penis (complete with an eye for a mouth, if you take my meaning) and a gimp suit with toilet brush attachments is worthy of at least grudging respect.

So why did it underperform? An Agatha Christie-style ‘process of elimination’ points to prejudice.

Awareness for the film was high, with the Bruno character ushered into the public conscience through a pre-release PR campaign at once outrageously showy and elegantly simple.

Writer/star Cohen made mincemeat of the global media, in particular its online arm, by showing up to premieres of his film dressed in a series of – let’s just say it – flamboyantly gay costumes.

In Sydney he was a bare-legged knight in shining armour, in Spain he arrived wearing a black bull outfit and flanked by pouting matadors.

Cohen - whose paycheck for the film put him in the same tax bracket as Tom Hanks and Will Smith - made himself easy spectacle, something to photograph, JPEG fodder for Perez Hilton et al.

People were talking Bruno and, obligingly, propelled the film to stronger opening box office than its big screen prototype Borat, which kicked on to become one of the most profitable – and widely quoted - films of 2006.

Borat’s runaway global success also gives the Bruno film de facto franchise status and further muddies the waters – since when have ticketbuyers said no to sequels, even those widely thought not to live up to their forerunners?

A forgiving public made the laugh-free Meet the Fockers a bigger hit than its far superior predecessor Meet the Parents. Night at the Museum 2 turned a healthy profit. The list goes on.

Are poof jokes out of fashion? Hmm… better rewrite that witty speech I was going to give at my friends’ commitment ceremony.

Bruno’s disappointing commercial fate leads me to believe that films expecting their audience to be in on the poof jokes are not working.

While Borat might have made us laugh at ‘backward’ Kazahks, Bruno scores points off our own intolerance for same-sex relationships and the gimp-suited perverts who engage in them.

And that’s apparently no laughing matter.

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36 comments

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    • At Work (or not) says:

      07:02am | 06/08/09

      I’m confused. Are you saying we’re homophobic for *not* seeing Bruno?

      It’s a straight 30something man who is not funny playing yet another bad stereotype. I didn’t see it- because I am a discerning movie goer, not because I’m small-minded.

    • cate swannell says:

      07:38am | 06/08/09

      Nice piece Sammy, as ever. Here’s my take. I could handle Borat being anti-Semitic, because Sacha is Jewish. Sacha isn’t gay. So if you didn;t get the Borat joke, what chance the Bruno joke? Is he taking the piss out of gays or homophobes? his heterosexuality makes that question more difficult to answer, for some at least. No, I haven’t seen it. And I won’t. I get that he’s having a crack at the ‘phobes, but i just can’t take another couple of hours of gay stereotypes.

    • jill says:

      07:42am | 06/08/09

      i don’t quite understand why bruno is a ‘bad stereotype’ - (re at work (or not) comment) how can you know that if you didn’t see the film. I saw it and thought it was great, yes it was a bit confronting, especially some of the outfits but it was still a great film to watch especially as sam said just to see some of the peoples reactions in the film.
      Another great piece of writing sam, keep it up and I love the title smile

    • John says:

      07:50am | 06/08/09

      I concur, I’m totally confused as well.

      “There’s a strong argument that Bruno is Brit comic Sacha Baron Cohen’s sharpest character yet” - Er… and that is?

      “Are poof jokes out of fashion?” - Mate, is that a serious question? Have you been living in the seventies for the last few decades? What next, an article asking “are abo jokes out of fashion?”

    • Jonathan says:

      07:53am | 06/08/09

      Yeh, I love a good “poof joke” as much as the next guy, but Bruno should have been straight to dvd. 
      I laughed a lot in the cinema, but asked straight away by someone if they should go see it, my response was : “meh”.  I can’t even remember now which bits I was laughing at.
      It’s not witty, sharp-edged or satirical.  It’s a middle-aged bloke pretending to be a gay teenager and cracking onto straight dudes.  The outrage expressed by the rednecks in the film is completely expected: like shooting fish in a barrel.
      If you expect the straights of the world to be shocked by gay culture as expressed in this film, you’re maybe 20 years behind the times.  Heard of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras?  Yeh, it’s pretty big.  Bruno would struggle to stand out with his antics there, and that happens right in one of the main streets of Sydney with government sponsorship and huge public support.
      As your stats suggest, people aren’t recommending it because they don’t like it. 
      Maybe gay just isn’t funny anymore…
      In closing:  on a Simpsons episode the other week there was a gay rights parade.  The gays and lesbians were chanting “We’re here!  We’re queer!  Get used to it!”  To which the crowd replied: “We ARE used to it!”  Now THAT’S pithy social commentary.

    • eag says:

      08:16am | 06/08/09

      Maybe we’re all bored with bad movies about subjects that have been done before and not homophobic.If Gen Y is anything to go by, attitudes are much more liberal and accepting these days.

    • Mike says:

      08:37am | 06/08/09

      I think the problem with Bruno is that his character development is deaking now - and not during the movie. I went and saw the movie, and while I laughed, it did not cause as much side-splitting laughs as Borat. To tell you the truth, I think I laughed more in the Rove interview than I did in the movie. And that’s my point, Cohen has nailed all of his PR work of Bruno. So much so, that when you show up to the movie your expectations are so high, that you’re let down…

    • Pete from Sydney says:

      08:37am | 06/08/09

      Sam, lay off the substances….that can be the only excuse for the tripe above…the film is crap..and crappy films traditionally don’t do well…I saw it and it’s a coupla hours of my life I’ll never get back…if you’re an entertainment critic,  then look at things through your critcs eye, stop trying to make something out of a nothing film

    • PL says:

      08:42am | 06/08/09

      Sam,
      I haven’t seen the movie, primarily because it received poor reviews (and I rarely go to the cinemas anymore). A good opening week followed by poor returns usually suggests the movie is no good rather than anything else. Your speculation could possibly be true but its more unhealthy than anything else - just because people don’t agree with your taste in films doesn’t make them prejudiced. I’m not a fan of Woody Allen, does that make me an anti semite too?

    • nino says:

      08:48am | 06/08/09

      I don’t find his character very interesting and even the “poofs” don’t like him…

    • Saint says:

      08:55am | 06/08/09

      Sam, couldn’t disagree with you more. I’m a mid 30s gay guy who rejects any and all political correctness so I expected to love Bruno. The problem was it just wasn’t funny or clever. The character’s behaviour is so outrageous that anyone, gay or straight, would react in a similar way to the patsies in the film. Which is why it fails. Borat was much cleverer in revealing people’s prejudices, which some of them clearly didn’t realise they had. Bruno just keeps hitting with a sledgehammer until he gets a gasp. The scene with the hunters is a case in point. They sit quietly and politely while he says completely inappropriate and confronting things and only mutter under their breath at times. Cohen, to get his reaction, has to eventually resort to turning up at one of their tents naked and asking to come inside. The guy reacts as anyone would. And I think a gay guy who wasn’t interested in Bruno would react in the same way.

      The other problem is, as other commenters have pointed out, is that gay isn’t funny anymore. Most people stopped sniggering at gays a long time ago so even Bruno’s completely over the top uber-gayness and ridiculous outfits and behaviour are not funny after about minute 3 of the film.

    • CCC says:

      09:01am | 06/08/09

      Are you guys missing sam’s point?

      John at 7.50am complains about him not backing up why bruno’s his best character… but its right there in the article. He says Bruno is ‘more socially incisive than borat’.

      Pete at 8.37 says bad movies don’t do well, but sam says meet the fockers did well because it was a sequel - and Bruno is a kind of a sequel to borat, which was a massive hit. Even my mum went. Fockers is terrible!

      Mike’s got a good point though, about how Bruno was a PR character more than a movie character.

      But apart from that, john and pete should read carefully before they post a comment.

    • Hitchy at work says:

      09:19am | 06/08/09

      I don’t think ‘Bruno’ flopping (no pun intended) in Australia has anything to do with homophobic attitides….to the contrary, in fact. ‘Poof’ jokes have been done to death, as have ‘reality’ characters being let loose on unsuspecting ‘victims’ for a laugh…sure Borat was hilarious, probably because it played on the stereotype the rest of the world has of ‘seppo’s’ gullibility & conservatism ...but gee, aint ‘Bruno’ just a gay ‘Borat’?...it’s been done before & done better…nothing to see here folks, move along

    • G says:

      09:38am | 06/08/09

      Perhaps maybe, just maybe, the movie is not good..  I know I know, pretty mind blowing stuff.  Its an interesting theory, crazy perhaps though. 

      Gen Y are fairly liberal these days so I don’t think it’s that.  Maybe its your experience with your friends or the people you have dealt with that are homophobic that has coloured your opinion this way.

    • Michael says:

      09:58am | 06/08/09

      Won’t ever watch this movie, seeing him prance around trying to reinforce the all gays are flamboyant queens stereotype pisses me off. Might be funny to see someone play an aggressive macho gay man though, maybe that’s next

    • John says:

      10:01am | 06/08/09

      CCC,

      The line Bruno is “socially incisive than Borat” is a claim, not an argument, backed up by, well, pretty much nothing but the claim iteslf.

      And more to the point you’d hardly call it a “strong” argument, if it were even an argument to begin with. Why is it a sharper charachter? I’ve read nothing in this piece that provides any evidence to back up that claim.

      Let me know when I’ve started thinking.

    • Sam Cleveland says:

      10:01am | 06/08/09

      Unfunny comedies (fockers, for instance) and cookie-cut blockbusters ROUTINELY make money, in spite of their poor quality.

      They’re usually marketed well and hyped as an EVENT, just like Bruno was.

      There’s scant traction is saying ‘Bruno failed because it wasn’t funny’ because FAR LESS entertaining films have done FAR BETTER in the US and Australia.

      So stop it.

    • Phil says:

      10:06am | 06/08/09

      How much a movie stinks is almost always in direct proportion to the amount of money spent on publicity.

      Bruno was splashed on every glossy mag, newspaper, talkshow, busstop and billboard you could lay your eyes on.

      That, plus some pretty lukewarm word of mouth, gives me more than enough information to make a decision on whether to see it or not.

    • Loser says:

      10:23am | 06/08/09

      Bruno is like all the worst parts of Borat and none of the good bits. Borat let the people he interacted with embarass themselves, but Bruno doesn’t let them, he just constantly tries to be the centre of attention. Borat was interesting in that he was naive and had values that seemed odd to us, but he was a nice guy. Bruno is a jerk and so we don’t care about him. Also as others have said, being gay isn’t really that funny anymore.
      Movies like this are more effected by water cooler convesation than any other type, which is likely why it opened well and then failed.

    • John says:

      10:36am | 06/08/09

      Sam, I think you’re clutching at straws with this piece. You’re not uncovering any great conspiracy theory here or making any sharp social commentary.

      It was a very well marketed movie that didn’t deliver the great satire Baron Cohen is capable of, and with the current financial climate and our new ability for word of mouth to spread insanely fast, it’s hardly surprising that Bruno didn’t rake it in.

      With the argument you’ve put forth, the headline of this article may as well have been “Dud movie flops at box office”.

    • jim fish says:

      10:47am | 06/08/09

      No no no! You’re all wrong! Well, most of you. You are a bunch of sheep. Don’t you recognize genius? It’s not laughing about poofs. It’s laughing about everything that’s ridiculous in society and in the US in particular. Sam is right, it’s a great movie. As well as being the funniest, the man is the bravest filmmaker on the planet. The Chaser guys are rightly lauded for their stunts but they’re school kids compared to Baron-Cohen. There are about four moments in the film where he puts his LIFE on the line. It is jaw-droppingly brilliant and funny in the extreme. The rest of you posters here are, therefore, wowsers and dullards, worthy of featuring as patsies in the next Baron-Cohen feature. See you on the big screen!

    • sam Cleveland says:

      10:56am | 06/08/09

      john,
      you’re stating as FACT that bruno’s a ‘bad’ movie while criticising my logic.
      Umm…

    • Sam Cleveland says:

      11:10am | 06/08/09

      sorry… MY logic

    • John says:

      11:15am | 06/08/09

      Nope, I’m just saying you’ve overlooked the gigantic possibility that people just didn’t like the movie in order to strongarm an argument that we’re all homophobic and that’s why the movie flopped.

      I just saw John Woo’s Chinese epic Red Cliff - didn’t really grab me. If that flops will you write an article asking if we’re all anti-Chinese?

    • CCC says:

      11:23am | 06/08/09

      John,

      That line about Bruno being Cohen’s sharpest character is just part of the larger argument.
      To argue that point in full, I’m guessing, would be another piece entirely.

      However, the nature of this site allows that ‘claim’ to be argued.

      BTW, how am I to let you know when you’ve started thinking?
      Just let us know when you do.

    • Bill Steamshovel says:

      11:29am | 06/08/09

      I remember watching Da Ali G show back in the day and although were initially hilarious, his schtick wore thin very quickly, as did Borat’s, mainly because it was the same stuff, presented through a different prism. As more people become exposed to Baron, they have similar experiences. This appears to be born out by the poor performances at the box office.

      Sam, I understand you are convinced of your own position. I agree that Bruno was well hyped and well marketed. I also agree that unfunny or unoriginal Hollywood production make money. But to say the fact the Bruno has tanked is directly attributable to homophobia is not the most likely or logical conclusion and nothing you have said or provided makes a case for this conclusion above other possibilities.  If you want to convince others of your conclusion,  you’re going to have to provide some arguments or evidence to support it.

      Or you know, you could just stamp your foot, type in caps and throw in a few exclamation marks. Which ever you think would be more effective.

    • Sam Cleveland says:

      11:41am | 06/08/09

      sorry, can’t get into it right now… watching gi joe.
      It’s very silly but very lively. I’m into it.

    • Jonathan says:

      11:43am | 06/08/09

      Hey Sam,
      Stop getting bogged down in a battle of semantics.  You’ve been caught out making claims that a whole lot of people disagree with.
      So, you liked the film.  A lot of people didn’t.  Doesn’t make us homophobic, anymore than you not liking “Fockers” makes you heterophobic.
      It seems to me that you’re upset because people don’t share your taste.  From this article, I will state outright that you and I clearly won’t see eye to eye on this topic.  I think you’re wrong and you probably think I’m wrong.
      I don’t think the movie was worth a damn.  Same old poof jokes, same old uncomfortable rednecks, same old “life threatening” (yes, I doubt their veracity, so sue me) situations.
      Feel free to like it.  It’s your right as a person to laugh at someone taking the piss out of people.  Just don’t make up some inane excuse about WHY me and seemingly a truckload of other Australians didn’t like it.
      It’s time the Punch started looking at their editorial policies.

    • PL says:

      11:58am | 06/08/09

      Some other reasons Bruno maybe didn’t go so well, other than its quality:

      I just read that in America the weekend Bruno was released was “the worst second weekend in July in 18 years”, it still managed to outgross Ice Age 3, which clearly has a larger demo than Bruno (i.e. Kids AND Parents).

      You have a look at the top box office movies and they are the usual suspects - Cartoons, Rom Coms, Overblown action/SFX movies. I don’t think this is out of the ordinary Sam, it is the usual drivel coming from major hollywood studios. Is it because of homophobia? Maybe. It could also be because the genre of humour is less popular, the uncomfortable situations and set ups, and that the majority of people like bubble gum. Meet the Fockers seems to be a popular example of the conspiracy - that movie was the highest grossing live action comedy in history, so it also outgrossed most comedies in its genre, including Borat.
      People who have seen Borat would know it does not take a cinema screen to accentuate the laughs in the movie - maybe that demographic are waiting for the video. There are so many different permutations that can be used to explain why Bruno fared worse than Borat, but you’ve picked one of the more cynical ones - homophobia. It doesn’t make for a reasoned argument.

    • iansand says:

      12:29pm | 06/08/09

      The publicity stunts were enough for me.  Humiliating for the victims.  Not particularly funny.  Now if we could get Bruno and Kyle Sandilands together in a locked room for a few hours we would have something worthwhile going on.

    • James Jenkin says:

      01:20pm | 06/08/09

      People have suggested the Borat message is quite muddled - I agree. Sadly, Cohen seems to have forgotten what made Bruno funny on TV - it sent up the fashion industry. It was nothing to do with ‘gayness’. Probably the edgiest part of the whole movie was when he got the model to say walking and turning around takes a lot of skill.

    • Chris P. says:

      01:45pm | 06/08/09

      cool arguement but i think if this was a debate sam cleveland is winning, he never says anything flatout if you read it, just suggests points..
      he never says what he’s saying is defiitely true, like the comments do.
      there’s nothing concrete anyone has come up with there.
      bad movies make money,
      sequels make money
      advertising movies everywhere makes people go
      but you don’t see many gay movies do you????
      i mean really bruno is not far off borat for comedy. better than the AliG movie as well.

    • Venise says:

      02:06pm | 06/08/09

      Nice stirring stuff SAM. With no logic in it. I’m sure I’m not the only person, in the blogospere, to dislike Sacha Baron Cohen. The reason? I’ve always thought that he gets his laughs at other peoples expense.
      This makes me a homophobe? Grow up Sam. Your readers are no where as stupid as you think them to be.

    • Jeremy says:

      03:42pm | 06/08/09

      “Bruno scores points off our own intolerance for same-sex relationships and the gimp-suited perverts who engage in them.”

      Um, what? Sorry, same-sex relationships are engaged in by… who did you say?

    • Janelle Batt says:

      06:50pm | 06/08/09

      This movie treats gay men very unfairly - Bruno’s character is too defined and reliants upon his sexuality. Cohen has been forced into pushing even more barriers of decency and socially-accepted behaviour - to achieve the same shock value as Borat - but he’s pushed it too far. His character is based around a gay man because, I believe, he sees a gay man as providing the opportunity to act more indecent and depraved than you would expect a straight guy to act. Straight guys are protrayed as normal. To me, this is discrimination against gay men because it perpetuates the myth that gay men are camp, raving sex-fiends who have no concern for social norms, decency - and I think that is really unfair.

    • SimonP says:

      05:46pm | 07/08/09

      I’m a GenX gay man. I saw Bruno only because it was at a fundraiser screening - I would not have gone otherwise.

      I had low expectations, but the movie was WORSE than I expected!  It was silly, shallow, tasteless, crass, but worst of all… simply not funny.  It is not the height of satire to come on to a senator in a private room (while invading his privacy by secretly filming in), then being shocked when he leaves.  Similarly, it is not intelligent humour to perform simulated gay sex in front of a crowd of drunk wrestling fans who were expecting something different (behind a two-meter fence with razor wire! Did someone say “life in danger”...? ha!).

      It was plainly and simply low-level shock humour, on the same level as fart and bum jokes (although, I’ve seen clever versions of those!).  I cringed a lot - mostly in sympathy for the victims of his stunts.

      So, why did it flop?  Because it wasn’t funny.  Nothing more sinister or political than that, I’m sorry to say…

 

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