Anthony's Film Review
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
Borat is offensive, grotesque, and outrageous, but definitely funny enough to make you laugh several times...
Sacha Baron Cohen is a Jewish-British comedian best known for Da Ali G Show, a comedy show in which he interviews real people as a gangster (Ali G), a gay Austrian (Bruno), and a TV journalist from Kazakhstan (Borat). Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is a feature-length film that centers on Borat, in a story about coming to America, learning why it's great, and bringing it home to Kazakhstan. There was a lot of hype before the film's release, not just because of the funny trailers but also because of many critics who, after early screenings, have considered Borat one of the funniest movies ever made.
The film is a fake documentary (a la This Is Spinal Tap) that involves Borat interviewing people as if he were really a reporter (a la Candid Camera) while doing very offensive things (a la Tom Green and Andy Kaufman). He meets a variety of people making up the slices of the American pie, including feminists, African-American youth, gays, cowboys, and a gun shop owner. The film is mainly a one-hour-twenty-minute-long practical joke on the United States. Some of the people Borat encounters, however, are very offended by his actions.
Here's why. Borat comes from a place that is misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and just plain backwards. He comes to America with only those customs he knows and is totally ignorant of the social mores of America. Many jokes in the film stem from this. Plenty of them are funny, especially when they're unexpected. After all, cross-cultural humor in a fish-out-of-water story is something that can always make us laugh.
Let me describe my own reactions to the film. First of all, I did check out reviews of the film in advance. According to some reviews, the movie is so hilarious that one might need to catch his or her breath after laughing so hard. On the night I saw it, I actually came prepared to hold back some laughter. I didn't regret doing so. I still enjoyed the film because I also admired the artistic quality of the film. The degree of laughter, while a major part of how good a comedy is, was not the sole factor here.
I, along with the rest of the audience, laughed about once every half minute to three minutes at a degree ranging from mild to hysterical. That felt pretty good. There were moments, though, where the laughter seemed to be reserved and mixed with discomfort. This accompanied the scenes where Borat really pushed the envelope, including those explicitly depicting masturbation, human defecation, and male genitalia. In fact, prepare yourself for the film's most shocking, disturbing, and outrageous scene in which Borat and his obese producer, Azamat (Ken Davitian), fight while naked. It generated so much audience screaming of shock and laughter that it literally silenced the film.
For me, how good the laughter felt depended on the type of humor involved. The scene with the humor coach was funny because it relied on wit instead of scatological humor. I also liked the scene with Borat learning to talk and dress like a young black guy. Then there's the scene where Borat stays at a bed-and-breakfast owned by a Jewish couple, because the anti-Semitic humor ultimately pokes fun at Borat and the ridiculousness of anti-Semitism, not at Jews. However, when you have the antique shop scene where Borat accidentally but unapologetically demolishes some of its items, you can't help but feel sorry for those who were not in on the joke.
Whether or not you like the film may not change the fact that it will amaze you to some degree. When you take a step back and look at the film overall, you cannot help but be astonished by its style. It's not entirely fiction. It's not entirely a documentary. The line between the two genres is erased. The result is something that is new but still engaging for the audience. This is also a type of film made in the new age of YouTube and other means for ordinary people to gain fame. On the level of artistic experimentation, there is, as Borat would say, great success.
Most importantly, it succeeds with social satire and commentary about what America is really about. You have a racist, sexist, and homophobic foreigner who comes to America only to discover that Americans are no less prejudiced than he is. There are scenes that show an unwillingness to encounter those different from us. Consider the rodeo scene where Borat is singing the national anthem of Kazakhstan. Why is he doing this and allowing the audience to boo him? Maybe it shows how anything that is not American is bad. In addition, the Southern dinner scene ends with a humiliating moment involving clashing with a different social class. This illustrates a typical American's lack of openness to other Americans, outside a familiar subculture.
All of this poses an interesting question. Who is the real foreigner here? America or the rest of the world? Again, this is a practical joke on the country, and it has a purpose. As humiliating as it is for the prank victims, Borat shows the true side of America. From this point on, we really start to question the concept of freedom and other values America supposedly represents for the world.
Aside from the warning that the movie is not for the faint of heart, I think the film is quite funny and original. I admire Sacha Baron Cohen's daring performance and his ability to stay in character, during the film and while promoting it. Sometimes, we need comedians like him to step over the line just for new territory for laughter. Borat is certainly unique enough to be considered a landmark comedy film. Even if it's not the greatest comedy film of all time, it can still put a smile on your face.
For more information about Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, visit the Internet Movie Database.