Lutz Triumphant

By Dan Friedman

Published July 15, 2009, issue of July 24, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Another Bastille Day passes with fireworks in France, political turmoil in Italy and a romantic comedy topping the American box office. This year, though, the romcom in question is not a grand marnier soufflé of warm, fluffy intoxication but a raw, slightly awkward, pas de deux between a self-obsessed fashion journalist and the klutzy Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), his assistant’s assistant.

Queen For A Day: Sacha Baron Cohen as Brüno.
Queen For A Day: Sacha Baron Cohen as Brüno.

Yes “Brüno” is a scathing, and occasionally mean-spirited, indictment of superficial celebrity culture (who can forget Paula Abdul sitting on a Mexican worker saying how vital she finds her humanitarian work?) but it’s also a tender homage to one of western civilization’s more enduring plot formulas. The redemption of an egotist by a devoted, sympathetic partner has been the staple of romantic comedies from “Taming of the Shrew” to “Roman Holiday” and behind “Brüno’s” radical unscripted reality filming techniques lies a simple story in which dogged love overcomes many obstacles to finally triumph.

No matter what fate brings to the protagonists — prison, chat shows, Hollywood ostracism — Lutz is (at times literally) chained to Brüno (played by Sacha Baron Cohen who is, full disclosure, an old friend). He endures every minor rejection until, seemingly past the brink of acceptance, he is brutally rejected once more. Lutz’s outburst at this point is not surprising to an audience who has seen his blatant attachment to the impossible and implausible Brüno but is notable not least because it is one of the few times that Brüno actually listens to what he’s being told.

Brüno and the audience are distracted from Lutz by Brüno’s ongoing quest for celebrity. Giving up on Hollywood he heads to “Middle Earth” to mediate between Israelis and Palestinians, including Forward columnist Yossi Alpher. He arranges to interview Ayman Abu Aita, a “terrorist” he hopes will kidnap him to bring global publicity. Ironically Aita, a former member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, is now an elected representative of Fatah and committed to non-violence and he presented far less of a personal threat to Baron Cohen than the ultra Orthodox Jews who chased him through the streets objecting to Brüno’s skimpy take on their black coat costume.

Unlike most romcoms, love in “Brüno” has to overcome not only individual reluctance and communal disapproval but also profound legal hurdles. The climactic scene is, in good romcom style, a final confrontation where true love finally blossoms albeit in an ultimate fighting cage. Hundreds of men and women who have come to see two almost-naked men wrestle whistle, yell and hurl their disapproval at having to watch two gay men kissing but even in the face of that, and Brüno’s metamorphosis into Straight Dave, love triumphs. Shortly afterward we see an officer of the law, who is slightly more self-reflective than the vitriolic crowd, express legal disapproval: “I don’t marry two men or two women.”

For the film to work the comedy must come on the one hand from the painfully malleable superficiality of those in thrall to media publicity, like the father who, when asked whether his child would be prepared to play with “lit phosphorus” said “yes, he loves it.” On the other hand comedy comes from watching people struggle with their discomfort, or just embrace that discomfort, in the face of an obviously gay man. Either way, the film upholds the substantial over the ephemeral and gay rights over homophobia. It has to for the romance to come out right.

So, because of the dictates of the genre, gay rights are important, but why do we care about Lutz the person? He’s a doormat, a co-dependent and looks like a poor man’s Stellan Skarsgard!

We care because it’s his view of the world that triumphs in the end. For better or for worse, the domesticated view of romantic and family love that he espouses is largely the one that the film chooses for the happy ending the genre demands. The fact that he is rocking the crib as part of a family unit is more important than that he’s using a dildoed exercise bike to do so! And, of course, GLAAD will be pleased to note that Lutz is a long way from Brüno and his uncomfortably stereotypical flaming fashion queen persona. For all those who say, like Homer Simpson, “I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals FLAMING!” there are at least two significant gay characters in the film and one of them is deliberately not flaming.

So romcoms are boring and heterosexual? Ich don’t think so.

Dan Friedman can be contacted at

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.