Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. 2006. Directed by Larry Charles. Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, & Dan Mazer; uncredited writing by Seth Rogen & Patton Oswalt.
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell, & Pamela Anderson. Four by Two/Everyman Pictures/Dune Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 84 minutes.
As far as comedians go, Sacha Baron Cohen is definitely one of the more divisive talents to grace the Hollywood big time. Some find him offensive, though they’re often people that mistake him for his character instead of comedian employing the use of satire. Some rightfully find him hilarious. I’m one of the latter audience members. Cohen got big with Ali G and his show, the two different incarnations, which of course featured the characters Borat and Bruno. This trifecta made for an extremely subversive slice of television. Ali G started right at the turn of 2000, then the show went again on air about 2003 when I graduated high school. The last couple years of school I’d gotten influenced by Cohen and his edgy humour; him, plus Knoxville and Co. with their often death defying (or intelligence defying) stunts. In part, I credit the ridiculousness of certain aspects in my humour to Cohen.
Borat is essentially the best of Da Ali G Show, only with the ante sufficiently upped. There are moments in the film that are almost too good to be true. Luckily, the genuine reactions and emotions of many people are forever trapped on celluloid. There are few comedians able to reach the awkward, tense heights of which Cohen is beyond capable.
The incredible power of Borat as a character comes in the form of truth. For instance, so many people obviously don’t realise they’re talking to a comedian, and so they’re open, honest, unafraid of being mocked or made to look foolish. Like the guy at the rodeo who says America’s trying to hang the homosexuals, and so on. Part of this isn’t even comedy, it is genuinely tragic. A guy such as that cowboy-hatted asshole talks down to Borat, thinking he’s a guy from a country where he’ll never go, a country he’s never cared about and never will. So not only do we see the truth, we see the ugly truth at times. There are a lot of actually hilarious and harmless bits amongst the harsh doses of reality. But the best parts come from this rawness.
Above anything else Borat is able to expose the underbelly of America. The people who are casually racist, not so much the ones that are blatantly out there. He gets to the quiet types, the ones who are lured in by his whole shtick. Such as the dinner party when Luenell shows up to be his guest, and this is the last straw – a big, black lady dressed a little too sexy is too much for them, but the bag of shit Borat previously brought down didn’t put them over the edge. That little juxtaposition is poignant. People might think it’s just crass, dirty, “toilet” humour. It isn’t, it opens up the racism of these white people so wide that if you ignore that, you may be blind to racist behaviour. There are a bunch of instances where people are overtly racist because of how Borat, and the genius of Cohen in his skin, makes people act.
A few of the amazing scenes that stand out are ones that constantly, consistently funny. There’s the one where Borat meets with the Veteran Feminists. On the surface people say it’s offensive. And what he says is, certainly. It’s just because of how he skewers the typical view many of us have re: certain Asian countries, et cetera. What’s even funnier is that racist and xenophobic people probably watch this and almost feel that it’s truthful in that sense; it’s not funny, I guess, rather it’s sad. Again, that’s the glory of the movie. Another scene I find downright perfect is the driving instruction followed by the search for a Pussy Magnet. I mean, it’s crack up funny. Further than that I can’t get enough of the driving instructor, how well he interacts with Cohen as Borat, and the almost duo-like presence they have together. Immediately as Borat double kisses his cheeks, the response he gives makes me keel over laughing. There are too many of these awesome moments to list.
Central to everything, which doesn’t necessarily need to be said but I’ll say it anyway, is Cohen’s performance. The control this man has is unbelievable. One of the best of any comedian, ever. You’ve got to give him that even if you’re not a fan. He goes full force into the role and plays it to maximum effect. The awkward moments, the at times angry and tense scenes. Every last bit features a stone-faced Cohen. There’s no imagining how he’s able to keep the laughter in, and I’m sure there were outtakes that completely messed up particular scenes. But you can see how the toughest moments are played to the furthest end. All the while, Cohen keeps the act on to make it riotously funny.
I know why people aren’t fans of Cohen. Likewise, I understand why they don’t enjoy Borat, or any of the other characters he plays. Don’t agree. Although I do understand. Because that’s what comedy, and life, is all about. We can enjoy different things without that being a problem. Yet I do take issue with those who find the film offensive. I don’t think that Cohen is ultimately trying to make Kazakhstan or anyone there look foolish. His primary target is American culture, how they view themselves and in turn how they view those outside of their culture. There are scenes where Cohen gets the opposite reaction I’d expected. Others you feel the pit of your stomach flop because you knew people like that existed, though they aren’t always readily visible.
So thanks Sacha – this is a contemporary comedy classic that many of us will enjoy years down the road. Your wit and charm in such utterly ridiculous scenarios is something I’ll never be able to deny, even if I wanted to. And why the hell would I want to? Borat’s a character that has made me laugh for the past 16 years. I suspect it’ll go on a lot longer, too.