Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” not only has one of the longest titles recent cinematic history, but it’s also one of the funniest and most offensive films I’ve seen. And I love it.
Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) is Kazakhstan’s top television reporter, and he’s sent to America with a film crew to learn about American culture, and bring his findings back to his beloved homeland, with the hopes of bringing Kazakhstan into modern cultural relevancy. He is naïve in the way of American manners, decency and political correctness, saying or doing whatever comes to mind, and has clearly never heard the phrase “when in Rome.” The people he interacts with are either offended by what he does or oddly accepting. It’s like when adults interact with a three year old who does something wrong. They turn their heads and say “oh, isn’t that precious.” But Borat isn’t content with that; he has to take it to the point of offensiveness.
The hilarity is that the joke is on us. He isn’t making fun of Kazakhstan, as they’re government believes (they event went so far as to taking out a four page ad in the New York Times denouncing the film). He is making fun of American ignorance. He goads people into saying things on camera that makes them look stupid or bigoted. In the South, at a rodeo, he gets one of the riders to admit that America should to make homosexuality punishable by death. In New Mexico, he hitches a ride with some fraternity boys from California, and gets them to say that everyone should have slaves, and women are beneath men.
He doesn’t trick them by asking them leading questions. These are candid conversations with the subjects. It could be construed as a trick, since it is Cohen in character, but I would hardly feel any sympathy for the subjects, as they were being honest in their bigotry. That and laughing at the clueless is just good old fashioned fun.
Cohen has proven himself to be one of the finest comedic actors of our time in just about everything he does. His devotion to his craft is unrivaled. He never broke character when he was doing his television show, “Da Ali G Show.” In the movie he never breaks character. In the weeks and months leading up to the premiere of the film, he would only appear in character, in order to keep the illusion and the joke going. He really makes his subjects, and at times the audience, believe that he is, in fact, a Kazakh journalist.
I’d have to say the best moment of staying in character was the fight in the hotel Borat had with the producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian). They take it from the room, down the hall, into the elevator, through the lobby and crash a Mortgage Bankers conference in a ballroom, never breaking character. It is pure dedication, and I have never laughed so hard in my life.
The mockumentary gets bogged down by an actual (and very thin) plot. Originally the documentary Borat was shooting was to stay only in New York City. But he falls in love with Pamela Anderson after seeing an episode of “Baywatch” and decides he has to travel to California to marry her. It’s an obvious “deus ex machina” that sets the action in motion, but is totally unnecessary. The Pamela Anderson meeting wasn’t really that funny when compared to the rest of the film, and the cross country travel could have been easily explained another way.
But silly plotlines aside, it’s one of the smartest and most intriguing comedies in a long time. I really can’t remember a movie where I laughed this hard, at least not since 2003’s “Bad Santa.”