It’s rare in life to get exactly the innermost desires of your anxious little heart. So when it happens twice in one weekend, it’s hard to cough up the appropriate words to describe it.
Lucky for me I came prepared to ward off this choked-up feeling. (Pops open bottle of Guaifenesin.)
But enough with the jokes. There’s nothing more difficult that reviewing movies you have pined to see, films that surpass your highest expectations. Perhaps I am up to the task; perhaps not. In any case, I’ll do my best to do justice (sweet, sweet justice) to “Bruno” and “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” which, after one viewing, earned two spots on my Top 10 of 2009 list.
“Bruno” (Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten)
The garrulous pinwheeling penis, the gay cage-match makeout session timed to “My Heart Will Go On,” the slinky seduction of Ron Paul, the ill-conceived Velcro jumpsuit, a dildo thruster that doubles as a clothing rack – forget everything you’ve heard about Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Bruno.” Every. Last. Shocking. Thing. Nothing but nothing will prepare you for the flaming-sick-wacko-D&G-studded work of inspired nuttiness that is “Bruno.” Cohen prepares a full-scale gayttack on the eyes, ears, the brain and, most important, funny bone. He makes you think, promptly sucker-punches you between the eyes, then barely lets the cranial pain subside before he goes right for the jugular. It’s a rough ride, for sure, but one original, smart and funny enough to keep you laughing through the pain.
The trick is making it to the closing credits. And my, what a challenge this is. “Bruno” is wall-to-wall zaniness disguising a sneaky ulterior desire to bludgeon prudery and expose ugly prejudice. And it’s all wrapped up in the form of one Bruno, an outrageously gay Austrian fashionista/TV show host. Kicked off his what’s hot now show (“autism is in!” he declares enthusiastically) after a wardrobe snafu, he pursues superstardom in America … where he quickly discovers that the U.S., for all its boasting of equality and acceptance, isn’t quite ready for his brand of, um, outness. (His first bid at fame, a celebrity interview show featuring long interludes starring Bruno’s unadorned, chatty member, is deemed “sick” and “worse than cancer.”) Trailing Bruno’s heels is Lutz (Hammarsten), his homely, faithful, lovestruck assistant who spends most of his time chained — figuratively and, on one occasion, literally — to his boss’s side.
Naturally, “Bruno” is less a cohesive movie than an outlandish, episodic satire. There’s a beginning and something vaguely resembling an end, but both are moot. Cohen doesn’t give two dildos and a strap-on about creating the next Great American Movie. Subtlety isn’t his shtick; he has all the tact of a Nazi storm trooper or Pat Robertson. This is a shock-and-awe campaign, pure and simple, designed to get all up in our alley and make us squirm with unease. With every wild stunt, he tests our limits, blasts through our boundaries, forces our real selves out of hiding and into the sunlight. Anyone with an open mind won’t walk away unsettled or unchanged. So be it. Cohen knows there’s truth in humor, and he means to make us believe. Conversion accomplished.
“I Love You, Beth Cooper” (Paul Rust, Hayden Panettiere, Jack Carpenter)
When promoters describe a teen romcom as a combination of “Juno” and “Election,” certain expectations arise. Squash them. Chris Columbus’ adaptation of Larry Doyle’s pithy coming-of-age novel is no “Juno” — not even close. Does that mean “I Love You, Beth Cooper” deserves to be lumped in with the likes of (shudder) “She’s All That”? Heavens no; that’s way harsh. A comedy with this much smarts and heart deserves better than that.
For starters, let’s chew on the plot, which spices up teen movie cliches with sly, self-referential humor: Loser valedictorian Denis (Rust) lets it rip with his graduation speech, confessing his affection for blonde hottie/head cheerleader Beth Cooper (Panettiere). Starting with The Big Speech? There’s a novel idea, and it’s quickly followed by others: Denis and his sexually ambiguous BFF Rich (fantastic newcomer Jack Anderson) throw a sad party … and Beth shows up with hot friends Treece (Lauren Storm) and Cammy (Lauren London) in tow. (“It’s the trinity,” Denis whispers reverentially, pointing out the odd fact that cool people in high school movies always show up in threes.) It’s hardly a rockin’ good time, and things only get worse when Kevin (Shawn Roberts), Beth’s coked-up meathead Army squeeze, crashes the party and, well, various other parts of Denis’ scrawny body.
If this all sounds familiar, suppress any forthcoming yawns; “I Love You, Beth Cooper” is hardly run-of-the-mill. Yes, all the points are there, waiting to be ticked off: the trashed house; the crashed party; the let’s-buy-some-brews! excursion; the steamy shower scene. But Columbus provides just enough warmth and wit to offset Doyle’s barbed quips about the nature of high school life. There are poignant moments to behold, such as Rich’s quiet anxiety about his sexuality, or Beth’s fear that life after high school is a bumpy, all-downhill trek. Which is surprising in itself, really: Who knew a teen movie could contain good acting? Rust (who’s actually 28) nails the gawky geek act, making Denis an oddball smart enough to know his life’s just beginning and Beth Cooper won’t be the best part of it. Part self-conscious showman, part awkward dreamer, Carpenter could not be better. Keep an eye on this one; he’s got a future, and it will be bright. And may Disney never reclaim Panettiere, for she’s got the chops to make Beth much more than an empty head and a firm pair of fun bags. She’s far better than she ought to be, and it makes “I Love You, Beth Cooper” a bittersweet, thoughtful meditation on growing up. With, ahem, a little nudity thrown in for good measure.