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by Andy Lauer
July 8, 2009 7:36 AM
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cinemadaily 07.08.09 | A Big, Gay Week at the Movies

It's one big, gay weekend at the movies, it seems, with the release of Sacha Baron Cohen's latest button-pushing romp "Bruno" and Lynn Shelton's "beyond gay" bromance "Humpday," both hitting theaters this week, coinciding nicely with Outfest in LA which kicks off tomorrow, July 9.

"'Bruno,' directed by guerrilla filmmaker Larry Charles, is often hilarious. Lynn Shelton's mumblecore bromance 'Humpday,' a sexual sitcom, is also very funny. Are they minstrel shows? Co-opting gay culture? Evidence of new tolerance or ineradicable prejudice? Or are they just using queer-ness to talk about something else?" muses the Village Voice's J. Hoberman , summing up a lot of the critic debate surrounding the two films, in his piece titled "Sacha Baron Cohen in Queerface for 'Bruno,' Mumblecore Boys in Bed for 'Humpday.'"

"Bruno's irrepressible outré sexuality is only the most provocative aspect of his mad exhibitionism. 'Bruno' burlesques homophobia the way 'Borat' did anti-Semitism, but its true subject is the nature of celebrity—or rather the dialectic between celebrity and otherness," continues Hoberman. "Like any star, Baron Cohen resolves contradictions—he's an open-minded bigot, an amoral moralist, an honest conman, a clever fool, and a performer whose crudeness is filled with grace. Even more than 'Borat,' 'Bruno' attests to the actor's skill at verbal and physical comedy."

From David Edelstein's review for New York Magazine: "If the latest Sacha Baron Cohen provocation, 'Bruno,' seems less sadistic than 'Borat,' it’s because wagging one’s gay butt in the face of potentially violent homophobes is not just aggressive, it’s borderline suicidal. I mean: 'Bruno' puts the moves on hunters with guns. In 'The Hurt Locker,' journalist Chris Hedges is quoted saying war can be a drug, 'a potent and often lethal addiction'—and Baron Cohen is a genuine comic guerrilla, charging right to the front lines of the war against prejudice and sanctimony. What’s open to debate is whether he’s also a comic gorilla—a cheap-shot artist, a mauler." Edelstein's conclusion: "Underlying all these gags—the funny, the crude, the funny and crude—is a hard truth: Flagrant gay behavior drives a lot of heteros insane. To be honest, I’m uncomfortable watching two guys with tongues down each other’s throats, too, but at least I know the problem is mine, not theirs. When the hushed, arty 'Brokeback Mountain' came out, its couplings set against purple mountains majesty, many right-wing commentators announced that they couldn’t bear to watch such abominations. To them—and to those who’ll see 'Bruno' because it’s the latest gross-out comedy sensation—Baron Cohen is proclaiming, 'Suck on this!'"

An image from "Bruno." Courtesy Universal Pictures.

"Beneath the idiocy, Baron Cohen is also a politically astute agent who's devised an ingenious way to confront and expose serious social issues - and indulge his own exhibitionism," writes Steve Rose for The Guardian. "'Bruno' is funniest, though, when it's at its most politically incorrect, especially when it comes to homosexuality. There's an eye-popping montage of extreme gay sex practices (imaginary, one hopes), a surfeit of waving penises, dildos, fetish gear, anal bleaching, and an excruciating mime in which Brüno fellates the ghost of a deceased member of Milli Vanilli in front of a psychic. Much of it is unavoidably hilarious, but is he lampooning homophobia or perpetuating it? Either way, he gets away with a great deal simply by being a brilliant physical comedian. That should stand him in good stead."

From Nick Schager's review for Slant Magazine: "'Bruno's' representation of homosexuality has been the crux of concern in certain corners, and with some good reason. Whereas Kazakhstani journalist Borat is an anti-Semite whose prejudiced comments compel others to articulate hate for Jews, Bruno attempts to prod homophobia through aggressively gay behavior. The two characters have divergent relationships to their intended targets—Borat being on their side, Brüno being the source of their bigotry—and, given those dynamics, Bruno's lurid behavior could, in theory, become the joke itself, confirming and exploiting stereotypes for derisive humor. Yet Cohen, shrewd as ever, sidesteps such pitfalls by immediately going for the over-the-top jugular, providing during 'Bruno's' first few minutes a montage of machinery-assisted sex so insane that the star swiftly, definitively posits his material as first and foremost about the hilarity of boundary-pushing nastiness."

"There are 61 laughs, three dildos, one gyrating, talking penis, an anal bleaching and one very pissed-off politician in 'Bruno,' which should be enough to make any movie fly," observes Todd McCarthy's Variety review. "But there is also a pronounced nasty streak to the innumerable provocations staged by the title character that curdles the laughs and wears out the flamboyant Austrian fashionista's welcome within the picture's brief 82-minute running time. Undeniably funny, outrageous and boundary-pushing, this further documentation of Sacha Baron Cohen's sheer nerve will draw an abundant share of 'Borat' fans, gross-out seekers and the culturally curious, making for some potent B.O. figures, at least at first. But the content will turn off some (no doubt including some gays), as will the sourness and ill will triggered by the picture's cumulative misanthropy."

"Lynn Shelton’s marvelous chamber comedy 'Humpday' butts up against the same sort of taboos as 'Bruno,' and in its fumbling, semi-improvised way, it’s equally hilarious and even more subversive," notes David Edelstein for New York Magazine about the "other gay movie," about two straight best friends who decide to have sex on a dare, opening this week. "It’s a dramatic neutron bomb, exploding inner lives while leaving social structures intact... 'Humpday' is a bigger threat to homophobes than 'Brüno' because there aren’t any flamers on display. Gay, straight, bi—it’s all shades of gray."

J. Hoberman also compares the two films: "Just as 'Bruno' is more of a comment on celebrity culture than the love (or hate) that dare not speak its name, 'Humpday' is actually less a queer comedy than a satiric view of macho. Appreciative as Shelton may be of her dudes, she has another agenda. Each in his own way, the guys have been freaked by a manifestation of assertive female sexuality—although the term 'pussy-whipped' is never used."

Spout's Karina Longworth calls it a "whip-smart, uproariously funny comedy which uses a dumb, drunken, 'bros will be bros' dare as the in point to talk about, amongst other things, the inevitable loss of self in long term relationships and the ongoing conquest to reconcile who we really are with who we’d like to think we could be... More grown up (and interested in the emotional pitfalls of what it means to grow up) than many recent American DIY films, and far more accessible to a non-film-savvy audience than Duplass’ last Sundance entry 'Baghead,' 'Humpday' may usher in the moment when some notable tropes of what we once called mumblecore can be successfully applied to more mainstream genre fare without the uinitiated turning off."

The New York Times also has a profile of director Lynn Shelton (titled "She’s a Director Who’s Just Another Dude"). "'The payoff for me is to be able to watch the film with an audience,' Ms. Shelton said. 'I know that a lot of directors are obsessed with the things they wish had gone differently, so they find it painful because they see all the flaws. I was in the edit room for ‘Humpday’ the whole time, and I know all of the issues and problems that we overcame, so the flaws don’t scream to me. It’s the accomplishments that scream out.”

Finally, anyone in Los Angeles can check out the offerings at Outfest, which kicks off tomorrow and runs through July 19.

"Outfest, entering its 27th year, is among the top tier of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) film festivals in the country, alongside Frameline in San Francisco and NewFest in New York," writes Mark Olsen in a piece for the LA Times on the festival's offerings and the state of LGBT film festivals in general. "These fests are part of a circuit that is a de facto distribution network for many films yet also a place where the very notion of what makes for a gay film is in flux."

The piece includes an interview with Kim Yutani, Outfest's director of programming, who notes "Queer films are changing. Filmmakers are not necessarily only telling stories with gay characters at the center; they are interested in telling other stories too," a sentiment echoed by filmmaker Jason Bushman, director of "Hollywood je t'aime," which is screening at the festival, who asks: "What makes a film gay now? Is it gay plot, gay filmmaker or just a queer take on life? I don't know... I don't feel stuck on the gay circuit. I'm happy to be there. But with that said, it's unfortunate a lot of the world sees a mainstream festival as having more credibility."

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