I always hate when they change titles on films years after the fact. These movies are obscure to begin with, so changing the title on you isn't the best idea for these producers. Anyway, this edition of Forgotten Film Synopses is of a title changed out of the blue to "The Dress Code", but whose original label is Bruno (2000).
The film opens with the voice of little Bruno (Alex D. Linz), reading aloud from the dictionary (he's an incredibly bright little boy). He tells us he's been having a recurring dream in which an angel chases him. What has he done? He stole her gown. And according to the angel, if he doesn't give it back, he won't gain access to heaven.
Bruno Battaglia lives on Long Island, and goes to one of those old-fashioned Catholic schools run by nuns, complete with a Mother Superior as Principal. For some reason it's like time is at a stand-still at these places, seeing as how they seem to have a zero-fucks-given policy on bullying, and not just by students. Mother Superior (Kathy Bates) hates Bruno, because she hates his mother. In fact, after she's done blaming him for having the shit beat out of him by brats, she informs her nun secretary not to let Bruno's mom get within 50 feet of her office.
So Bruno sits in the boy's bathroom and ponders his dreams and how to ask his mother why his father left. But then the mother appears, and that answer is obvious...
Upbeat, boisterous, and take-charge, Bruno's mother Angela (Stacey Halprin) only has one major fault: she's like 450 pounds. At first it doesn't seem like a thang to her. While Bruno distracts the secretary she sneaks into Mother Superior's office to downright threaten her life at the failure to protect her little boy. But once outside, we see Angela's weight does affect her - the kids see her and start mocking both of them, and we can see the names bother Angela more than a little.
Either way, Angela has to keep strong for herself and her son. So she just barrels the car over the curb and across the schoolyard like any mother would to show little bastards not to fuck with her kid! Although it causes them all to run pissing their pants, they yell after Bruno they'll get him the next day.
In order to make them feel better, Angela takes Bruno "to see some beauty", or in other words, to her friend Dolores's (Jennifer Tilly) cosmetics shop to try on polishes and lipsticks. Bruno has a good eye for cosmetic coordination, and tells his mom not to get the "Coronation Pink" blush/lip/polish set, but Angela takes them all when Dolores tells her her ex's new girlfriend bought the same items earlier.
Despite appearances, Angela is subconsciously destroyed over having been left by her husband, so after their stint at the shop, she and Bruno head over to White Castle's drive-thru for a... little meal.
5 double burgers rare with cheese and bacon, 6 clam strips lots of tartar sauce,
3 large fries, well done, extra ketchup, two orders mozzarella sticks, 4 extra crispy apple pies a la mode, and a large diet coke. (looks to Bruno) And what do you want?
So then Angela forces Bruno to get ready for hockey, and not because he likes it... but cuz her ex-husband will be there. Dino (Gary Sinise) is a cop, and thoroughly ashamed by both Angela and his son. He's since started a relationship with your stereotypical bleached-blonde bitch, who happens to be at the church-run bingo game Angela frequents. After a back-and-forth verbal spat, Angela is the one told to leave, and in the meantime, Bruno fails his own way on the ice, soliciting pathetic looks and consoling pats on the back for Dino.
He doesn't even drive his son home, to Bruno and his mom's freakishly garish house. Instead, he shows up to bitch at Angela about scaring the kids at school by hopping the curb earlier. Perhaps Angela does these things purposely to warrant attention from her ex? Who knows. But they argue. And he freaks when he sees Bruno comes downstairs in a nightgown.
Poor Bruno. He questions his sins, what he could have done to incur hatred from everyone in his life. Watching the priests in church the next day, he interprets that what you wear can bring you closer to God. And perhaps he needs him, since the little shits from the schoolyard not only beat on him again, but carry him to a classroom window and HANG HIM OUT OF IT UPSIDE DOWN threatening to drop him...
New girl to class Shawniqua Van Adams, complete with red cowboy hat and fake guns, tries to help out, but is ignored until a Sister enters - and naturally, does jack. In fact, she bitches out Shawniqua. This inevitably results in some mm-hmm-type sass back from the little girl, and BOTH she and Bruno are sent to Mother Superior's office!
Fuck it. Bruno's done giving a shit what she thinks. He tells Shawniqua that sure, he'll be her friend, and the two take off to go enjoy the day together. Along the way, since Shawniqua is cold, Bruno offers to trade his pants for her skirt, and she tells him the only dress she loves is her Communion dress, which is holy. Since Bruno thinks often about wanting to be closer to God since God is supposed to know and love everybody, this intrigues him.
Intrigues him to take Shaniqua home and then to her house, where she dresses him up in a pretty gown, complete with wig and makeup. They romp around in the rain, but suddenly, a vehicle comes by and hits Bruno.
Near death, he floats up to the light as doctors try feverishly to revive him. At the pearly gates, he comes face to face with the upset angel whose vestments he stole. Once he hands them back, he's allowed entry to heaven, and stands among the clouds like a gorgeous little cherub, in a new sparkly gown.
But now called to emergency with Dino, his new girl, and mother-in-law Helen(Shirley MacLaine), Angela is told Bruno is gonna be fine, and actually was protected by the wig. Heartless as the characters seem to be in this film, Angela still gets rude jabs and stares as she cries over her boy. Dino gets pissed everyone saw Bruno in a dress and leaves the hospital in a huff, bitch in tow. And Angela helps herself to a few dozen snacks from the vending machine - clearly, her weight is directly related to her tucked-away worries and feelings of inadequacy.
While Angela and Bruno are at Dolores's trying on perfumes, he catches the head bully outside with his dad - a severely obese dad. Says a lot. But the real revelation comes when Bruno accompanies his mom and friend to a clothing store where he tries on his first real dress - just what he claims to have seen when he visited heaven. In fact, he directs his mother on how to alter it just right.
And what is this for? Well, his mom stated it was only to be for at home, but during an assembly at school where updates on the upcoming spelling bee competition are explained, Bruno shows up in the contestant line all dolled up!
He's (predictably) carried off the stage by Mother Superior, and during a conference with her and his mom, he blows her away by schooling her on the ways all the great masters, historical male figures, and even the Pope himself, wears a dress of some kind.
Now fuming and embarrassed at the truth in his words, Mother Superior decides to throw back some unsolicited phrases to Angela. She tells her she and her son are pathetic, and that Dino took off not just cuz she turned into a whale, but because she's insane. Turning to Bruno, she admits she knows he'll be the one going to regionals for the spelling bee and possibly to the top (where the winner meets the Pope). But if he tries to wear a dress again, she'll rip it off.
Things get worse when Bruno and Angela are ambushed by the bastard kids as they leave the campus. Only this time it's personal. A large group armed with hundreds of eggs chases them to the car, screaming at Bruno he's a fag, and shouting derogatory names at his mother. They aim for Angela and Bruno's heads with their mini-bombs, even getting in close to smash eggs into the car, attempting to break the windows.
One kid hangs over the windshield from the roof, having climbed to the top of the vehicle. With no other choice, and completely terrorized, Angela peels out and slams the brakes to throw the little shit off. With it hard to see through egg yolk and other debris, she speeds away blindly, hopping a curb and taking out town property.
Dino hears the call on the "possible hit and run" reported against his ex-wife, but before doing anything, he stops to listen to some opera and think back to his younger days. At one time, Dino wished to become a great opera singer, but Helen put a stop to his Pavorotti obsession. He ignores the call.
Instead, several other cops go to Bruno's home, where Angela cries in severe distress over the incident. She begs for Dino, and then suffers a heart attack.
In the hospital again, Bruno, Helen, Dino, and blondie are told the doctors are keeping Angela for a week. Dino just gets up to leave, refusing to have anything to do with his own son. Helen demands to know what Dino's problem is, but Dino just literally pushes past her and out the door with his bimbo. Looks like it's up to her to take care of her grandson.
But Bruno knows when he's not wanted. On the drive home, he jumps out and runs, but Helen tackles him down. She takes him home for a haircut and the next day, goes to see Dino. It's here we learn Dino wants nothing to do with a "sissy", because that's exactly what he was growing up. And another thing: Helen has no idea where Bruno went. He never came home from school, so she goes to see Angela in the hospital.
Angela says she has no idea, but for the record, she's letting go of Dino. Like everyone else in this damn movie, not one fuck for her feelings is given, and Helen walks out with a grunt.
She finds Bruno in the cemetary, sitting on an angel monument. Taking him home, she asks why he wears the dresses, to which he replies that they are holy vestments. Bruno believes they give him power, the power to be confident. He doesn't fear people's reaction, because he doesn't fear retribution or even death.
Helen tells him he has a huge set of balls. Then she asks if he wants a shot of whiskey like she's talking to some old buddy! The faces he makes following the drink are beyond adorable, though.
So Helen decides to teach Bruno how to fight. Turns out he has quite a punch! He and Helen pick up Shawniqua and go to pick up Angela at the hospital the next day, who luckily, appears to be her old, upbeat self. Not even Shawniqua's observation daunts her, although it makes for simply the best line in the entire film:
Shawniqua: You're big!
Angela: You're black!
Nice. All of them, including Shawniqua's designer uncle, work to create the perfect dress for Bruno to wear to the regional spelling bee competition. And inside a packed house, he comes down the aisle, sparkly and fabulous! The nuns try to carry him offstage but now the adults in his life have something to say. Helen orders them to put her grandson down, and tells the audience if they don't like a boy in a dress, they can get the fuck out.
She also tries to apologize to Dino for not letting him sing when he was a boy - but now she understands the importance of letting her grandson "sing" to be happy. Dino hesitates, but still leaves the auditorium. And Bruno ends up winning the bee amongst media fanfare.
And then a new dress. And a new trophy for nationals. Now Bruno's become a virtual sensation, and during a press interview, he even hops down to beat the shit out of the head bully - still in his pretty dress. It all gets printed, and soon, the time of the final spelling bee contest is upon him.
It's outrageous. Religious groups protest, stating Bruno is going to hell for his dress-wearing. People form barricades outside to prevent his party from entering a fucking bee. The press is insane. Even Mother Superior and the nuns from Bruno's school are in the audience inside. Fortunately, though, the nuns don't give a shit Mother Superior wants them to sit down instead of cheering a welcome with everyone else.
But they go in, and a long, tense scene involving the spelling bee commences. By the time it's at its end, Bruno is up against one other girl, and manages to pull it off. Everyone is overjoyed; even Mother Superior is elated at Bruno's massive win.
At the airport, the press shoots Bruno in his cute little suit as he and Angela prepare to go to Rome. He exchanges gifts with Shawniqua and embraces his father for the first time in a long while. He now claims he "used to" have bad dreams about angels. Now he's in the arms of the Pope.