November 6, 2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

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If you are reading this review, you either: a) have already seen Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and are interested to see how much I screw up this review, or (b) judging by the fact that 2:20 matinees were sold out at Pyramid Mall on Saturday as young adults were turned into the equivalent of a group of gaggling tweens from 1997 trying to see Titanic, you will be seeing this movie in the very
near future.

Sacha Baron Cohen, who to the readership of The Sun needs no introduction, takes one of his perennially favorite characters, Borat Sagdiyev, and turns him into a modern-day, somewhat demented Alexis de Tocqueville. He traverses America with a constant zeal to find out all that is new and exciting about the “U S and A” and with a penchant for hating all things homosexual, Jewish and Uzbek.

To say that Cohen pushes the envelope is an understatement. Human defecation is the subject of a few jokes; Borat carries gypsy tears as his AIDS protection; and people who have an aversion toward phallic images should seriously consider not seeing this film. Borat has no problem venturing into stingily anti-Semitic humor nor comically referencing terrorism and 9/11. (One joke, where he makes a disturbing connection between the two, drew some gasps from the audience). Borat unapologetically unleashes for nearly an hour and a half some of the most daring and offensive comedy seen on American movie screens since 1964’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. (An interesting factoid that I like to think isn’t coincidental: Dr. Strangelove still beats out Borat for the longest movie title by one word.)

All of this culminates in the comedy’s apex (or nadir, depending how you view it) involving a certain fight, in a certain hotel, that intrudes on a certain convention of mortgage brokers. To divulge anything more would be to lessen the shock value upon which Borat depends, but the aforementioned scene was described to me by a friend as “worth the price of the ticket alone.”

But even though the comedy is crude, the film’s brilliance lies in its subtlety. Each joke and gag is perfectly timed. In a direct reference to Midnight Cowboy, “Everybody’s Talkin’” sounds as Borat dodges taxi cabs and buses in New York.

In one of the film’s most intelligent, under-the-radar tributes to comedy, we see Borat’s producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), dressed as Oliver Hardy, mumble in Kazakh: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” The film smartly integrates the subplot of Borat searching to meet the “chaste and honorable” Pamela Anderson and marry her. It prevents the movie from becoming a Jackass-like succession of gags and instead gives the film a direction and rhythm.

Not surprisingly, the government of Kazakhstan has not greeted this film with a hearty “Jagshemash!” Somewhat unhappy with their Borat-bestowed image of a country of rapists and morons, Kazakhstan has already purchased ads in The New York Times refuting their most well-known, albeit fictional, citizen.

However, it really isn’t Kazakhstan that comes off looking bad in Borat — it’s us. In fact, the only people that appear nice in the entire country are a Jewish couple that hosts Borat and his producer. Of course, the brilliant (and hilarious) irony of the situation is that our anti-Semitic friends are too worried about being poisoned to realize that this is the most hospitable treatment they have received on their entire journey. Outside of this charity, the comedy of Borat thrives on the cultural ignorance and, at times, outright bias of our fair land. We all know that Borat is fictional and what he says is motivated for comic entertainment. The downright racist and unfeeling responses that he receives from his unknowing interviewees, on the other hand, are all too disturbingly real.

It was interesting to note the change in mood in the theater when Borat parties with a group of privileged (an increasingly belligerent) frat boys who talk about screwing “hos” and how “minorities are keeping [them] down.” Could it be that most of us can relate to a similar situation, but can only realize how dumb it looks when displayed to us on a 30-foot screen?