Too many poofs spoil the broth for Bruno
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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