Fake Citizen, Real Funny!
|Starring:||Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, and Pamela Anderson|
Kazakhstan the country really exists. But Borat does not, at least, Borat isn’t really from that country. Of course, a little issue of citizenship won’t stop this film with the ungainly name from chewing up the box office.
Anyone familiar with Sacha Baron Cohen’s HBO television series, The Da Ali G Show, already knows about Borat, a reporter from the nation of Kazakhstan who’s utterly politically incorrect. And in this film, as the title clumsily reveals, Borat is going to visit the United States to learn something. What he does is make us laugh, a lot. Borat is one incredibly funny quasi-mockumentary. I say “quasi” because parts of it appear to be true, at least, true in a staged Punk’d or reality programming sense.
The story is told as though a Kazakhstani film crew is capturing Borat’s journey. Borat often talks directly to the camera. The film starts in Kazakhstan where Borat shows us around his village. In Borat’s country, women are treated terribly and personal hygiene isn’t a priority. Sex is constantly on his mind. He even touts his sister’s status as one of the top prostitutes in the country. And Borat’s been selected by his government to travel to America to learn something perhaps of its culture. Given Borat’s complete politically incorrect identity, we are confident that his trip will be eventful. Whether he’ll discover any culture remains the open question.
Borat is replete with one outrageous stunt after the next as unsuspecting Americans are taken in by Borat’s request to learn from them. This often leads to Borat insulting those that are trying to assist him. For example, at a dinner party, Borat tells the host that his wife wouldn’t be attractive in Kazakhstan and then Borat asks to go to the bathroom. He returns to the dinner table with a plastic bag he allegedly used to defecate into. As he waives the disgusting bag around, people at the table don’t know whether to laugh or gag. And, at times, neither do we. But this kind of lowbrow humor is magically acceptable so long as it is articulated by the foreign born naiveté Borat. Frankly, the charm of the character created by actor Cohen transcends the material. The success of this film will be telling of American’s tolerance for all things politically incorrect. Where Jackass No. 2 amassed a number of good weekends at the box office appealing mainly to a younger audience, Borat will no doubt attract a larger spectrum of viewers. Yes, Borat is Jackass for everyone (over the age of 17, who aren’t insulted by sex and bathroom humor).
I saw Borat at the Toronto International Film Festival this year where it created quite a stir. At the first screening, I’m told there was a problem with the print and the film stopped after about 10 minutes. Even former projectionist Michael Moore, who happened to be in the audience, couldn’t get the film going. But reportedly Sacha Baron Cohen took the stage and salvaged the evening. Borat is just one of his many funny personalities. And the magic of Cohen’s humor is that it’s mostly improvised. The remaining screenings of the film at the festival were packed with many viewers afterwards saying it was the funniest film they’d ever seen. I was concerned that the version I originally saw there would, for the film’s theatrical release, cut one unbelievably funny scene involving a lot of male nudity. Thankfully, the theatrical release still contains the scene just like it was shown in Toronto with black bars comically obscuring Borat’s naughty bits. Without this sequence, the film’s second half would begin to grate on one’s nerves.
Ultimately, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is more than a one note joke in that the inventive Cohen finds new and often funny ways to get Borat into trouble. And around the funny improvised skits, is a cohesive narrative that endears with the audience the main character and his traveling companion producer Azamat (played with naturally comic presence by Ken Davitian). Irreverent and purposely insulting to those featured in the film, Borat is the funniest film I’ve seen this year.
But what about the effect on the real Republic of Kazakhstan? My thought is that this film could help bring tourism to that country. But, of course, the people of Kazakhstan could never endorse this caricature. But despite complaints from Australians about Paul Hogan’s stereotypical Crocodile Dundee, people around the world fell in love with the outback hero. And even though Borat spends much of his road trip across America fixated on sex and pursuing Pamela Anderson, my thought is that Borat will capture more than a few hearts along the way.