Bruno‘s Sacha Baron Cohen “has been accused of indulging in gay minstrelsy,” writes Dennis Lim in a recently-up pro-Bruno Slate piece. “Oh, It’s true that he does not ‘play gay’ in the respectably stoic, square-jawed manner of Tom Hanks and Heath Ledger. But Bruno is less a character than a button-pushing social experiment in locating the tipping point of tolerance: How much can he get away with? What does it take to unleash the inner bigot?
“For his merciless ambushes to work, Bruno needs to be this flamboyant — and this moronic.
“The most discomfiting — and incongruous — aspect of Bruno’s pinkface masquerade is the character’s over-the-top sexual voracity. An early outre-sex montage that features a dildo rigged to an exercise bike establishes that we’re not in Kansas anymore. Bruno is a far cry from the prim and prissy old-school sissies, who were all innuendo and no libido. We have long been conditioned to regard effeminacy as a neutered, negative stereotype, but there are moments when Baron Cohen’s extravagant prancing — playing out amid what Bruno’s trailer calls ‘real people, real situations’ — seems not grotesque but defiant, forcing his foils (redneck hunters, straight suburban swingers) to recognize the screaming presence of Otherness.
“In that sense, Bruno could be considered an homage to the proto-gay-lib classic The Naked Civil Servant, a 1975 film based on the memoirs of Quentin Crisp, the author and actor who called himself the ‘stately homo of England.’ An exhibitionist flamer in oppressive early 20th-century Britain, Crisp (played by John Hurt) is a magnet for persecution, but he holds his hennaed head up high. “The world is full of Aborigines who don’t even realize that homosexuality exists,’ he declares. ‘I shall go about the routine of daily living making this particular fact abundantly clear.'”