Sexy Time! Borat Takes US and a by Storm
Mix equal parts documentary and mockumentary, throw in an unhealthy dash of anti-Semitism, a pinch of garden-variety xenophobia, add a dollop of Baywatch, mix it all up in an ice cream truck and garnish with black bears. What do you have?
Borat, that’s what.
The most indescribable film of the year (maybe of the decade, maybe of all time) and certainly one of the funniest and most surprising, comes to us from the scenic Kazakhstan countryside, home of globe-trotting journalist Borat Sagdiyev.
More accurately, it comes from HBO by way of the BBC. Borat is one of three alter egos made infamous by British comic mastermind Sacha Baron Cohen on “Da Ali G Show,” which might be one of the funniest half-hours in the history of television (if you haven’t seen it, the DVDs are cheap and the comedy is pure gold. Do yourself a favor).
Cohen, for the uninitiated, became famous a few years back by infiltrating the halls of power to conduct mind-bendingly stupid interviews with some of the world’s most influential and iconic personalities. The results are legendary. Newt Gingrich, Sam Donaldson, Donald Trump and Buzz Aldrin (whom Cohen called “Buzz Lightyear”) have all fallen victim to Cohen’s ruse, along with a host of others, and the results are uniformly side-splitting and jaw-dropping.
Of Cohen’s three guises – clueless gangsta Ali G and Austrian fashionista Bruno being the other two – Borat has always been my favorite, if for nothing more than his simple ability to both alarm and disarm those he interviews with his broken English and utter disregard for personal space. His feature film debut, directed by Larry Charles and subtitled “Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” finds Borat traveling to America to learn lessons that, as the title indicates, have the potential to enrich the lives of the average Kazakhstani.
The film finds its lovable idiot protagonist on a mission, first to learn about “US and A,” but later to track down and wed its most fetching virgin, Pamela Anderson (yes – Playmate, celebrity sex tape pioneer and Mrs. Kid Rock Pam Anderson). Borat sets off on his journey armed only with a camera, a microphone, a suitcase, a rooster and “a jar of gypsy tears to protect me from AIDS.”
Sound strange? You don’t know the half.
Like the segments on “Da Ali G Show,” Borat consists largely of scenes wherein unwitting bystanders and passersby are roped briefly into the bizarre world of our hero. You’ll cringe as Borat brings a hooker to a dinner party; sings the words of the “Kazakhstan National Anthem” to the tune of our own in front of a capacity rodeo crowd (sample lyric: “O Kazakhstan/greatest country in the world/all other countries/are run by little girls”); has a naked wrestling match in the lobby of his hotel; and dedicates his life to the Lord. Which is just a small sample.
The interesting thing about the film is that the shtick, previously only seen in five-minute vignettes, doesn’t get old when stretched out to feature length. What could’ve been I Kiss You! The Movie! bears out as a near-masterpiece of ambush comedy. Much like the Jackass films that preceded it, Borat spends an hour and a half one-upping itself, and it works through and through.
The film’s success stems from the parts of Borat’s “Ali G” sketches that are most memorable. As I said previously, this character has a way of breaking through his interviewees’ defenses and, consequently, the most memorable aspects of Borat lie in what some of the unsuspecting subjects say with their guards down. Witness, for example, the meathead college boys who helpfully inform Borat that minorities in America are privileged, or the cowboy who tells him to shave his mustache so he won’t look so much like a terrorist.
Like much of the world’s best comedy, it’d be nauseating if it weren’t so funny.
Borat is as a much screwball romp as it is a piercing gaze into the collective mind of America (which sounds like a laughable overstatement until you see the movie – promise). Cohen, who is Jewish when he’s not dressing up as an anti-Semite, famously drew the ire of the Kazakhstan government for his portrayal of the typical Kazakh citizen as a racist, misogynist boor. I can see where the anger comes from, but it’s wasted on Cohen, who is simply offering in Borat a parody of many in the Western world’s view of life on the other side of the globe. Of course it’s ridiculous and overblown – that’s the point, and that’s why it’s brilliant. The character itself isn’t shocking, it’s that no one in the film sees through it. That simple fact, I think, speaks for itself.
But on a simpler level, Borat is just good comedy, outrageous and quick on its feet. Step into the theater prepared to laugh, and don’t skimp on the gypsy tears.
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