Sunday, November 05, 2006

In Borat's Alley

If a film makes fun of everyone, how can anyone truly be offended?

See Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) for details. The president of Kazakhstan has been protesting this film since before it was released. And countless people in Borat have reportedly been suspended from school and work for the things they say and do in the mockumentary.

But the fact remains, this film doesn't so much make fun of people, as it does the stereotypes about them. And by that I mean: much of the humor in this film derives from our understanding of right and wrong; prejudice and reality. We can laugh at Borat Sagdiyev's anti-semitism precisely because we know it's wrong (it doesn't hurt to know that Sacha Baron Cohen is himself Jewish). And though we know Borat is a carciature of someone from a small country in the former Soviet Republic, we don't honestly believe he's an accurate representation of the Kazakh people.

We can laugh at politically "incorrect" conversations because we know those stereotypes are, again, gross exaggerations of irrational fears on both sides of the divide. From Borat's reluctance to eat a sandwich made by a nice, old Jewish woman... to his mistaking an elevator for a hotel room, Borat emerges as a veritable personification of sterotypes... he himself is a stereotype, just as he stereotypes others. And that's funny.

Ditto with his interactions with Christian Evangelicans (the friends of "Mr. Jesus"), various government officials, the Midwesterners, etc. It's our awareness of political correctedness, in fact, that drives much of the film's intelligent humor.

But that's not all. What I most enjoyed about this film was the "candid camera" aspect. Cohen's interactions with the general American public are perhaps the film's most hilarious moments.

But first, a word or two about the "plot."

Borat is a reporter from a small town in Kazakhstan. He's sent to America by his government to learn about the American way of life, so that Kazakhstan might emulate it. Borat and his "producer" travel to New York for that very purpose, and hilarity ensues. In acquainting himself with American television, Borat becomes smitten with C.J. (Pamela Anderson) on Baywatch, and ultimately decides to make her his wife. He talks his producer into driving to California as part of their "learning" experience.

As they journey across the lower 48, Borat interviews with countless politicans, etiquette experts and the like. Many of these "interviews" and run-ins are "real" (or so we are lead to believe). The everyday people Cohen encounters (dressed as Borat) are all under the impression they're speaking to a reporter from Kazakhstan, and so they don't realize they're being filmed for a movie.

Or to use the modern lingo, Cohen is "punking" people all over the U.S., posing as Borat, the naive reporter from Kazakhstan, when... in fact... he's a comedian from the U.K. making a film. The responses, then, are genuine and — at times — horrible glimpses inside the dark American psyche.

The end result: the funniest movie I've seen since Anchorman. Though I would say the first two-thirds is substantially more amusing than the last... I think that had something to do with the fact that they needed to tie the sketches together to keep the plot rolling towards its conclusion.

A word of caution: don't take impressionable young minds to see this. While much of the humor is "smart," there are also some very juvenile (and so very raunchy) elements. So it's a double-edged sword in that much of the comedy will be lost on younger audiences (not to mention, they'll see things they probably shouldn't).

There was actually one scene where — though I recognized it as being funny — I literally sat in my seat with my jaw gaping open, unable to laugh.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing on screen. And if you've seen Borat, I bet you could guess which scene I'm talking about in three tries.

OK. Maybe four.


michele said...

Okay, I can't even guess 'cause I haven't seen it. You know, at first I was on the fence about seeing it - it looked funny but I wondered if the trailers were telling the whole story.

Thanks to you, I've decided I need to see this movie. Cheers!

Saurabh said...

thanks for sharing! You write very well.

XOXO said...

Sounds like a film for your mom and me!!

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Michele — let me know what you think... there are certainly a few trouble spots in film where it almost loses me. But then something happens shortly therafter, and I'm right back on the (laugh) track.

Even if it is ashamedly (word?) so.