Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Reviewed By Doug Bentin
Posted 11/05/06 17:13:13

"Borat—emphasis on the first syllable."
1 stars (Sucks)

Allow me to be, unexpectedly, the voice of reason re “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” I’ve seen guys clearing leaves off their lawns with machines that didn’t blow as much as this movie does.

No, my reaction has nothing to do with the tastelessness of the gags—and never was that word more appropriate. Tasteless humor the film has in abundance. “Borat” makes “Freddy Got Fingered” look like a drawing room comedy by Somerset Maugham. And it has nothing to do with an aversion to bad taste comedy in general. If comedy isn’t, in general, tasteless, it isn’t, in general, comedy at all.

However, I must admit to some perplexity when the tastelessness in itself is presented as the entirety of the joke. There is nothing terribly amusing about the idea of a fat, middle aged man jerking off to a photo of Pamela Anderson, or to the concept of two naked men getting into a wrestling contest over the book that contains the picture. Seeing these things isn’t funny. It may be shocking and therefore elicit surprised laughter, but most people would be hard pressed to explain the humor in it. And saying that the joke is in the fact that it isn’t funny is just too conveniently post modern.

The idea behind the film is that Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen, who, the opening credits tells us, is also a screenwriter, story concocter, creator of the character, producer, and just all-round auteur) is a TV commentator from Kazakhstan who has come to the “U.S. and A.” to make a documentary film about the American way of life.

The film we see is supposed to be Borat’s documentary, but it is never convincing as such. At one point, Borat is abandoned by his traveling companion, the aforementioned fat man, with only his return airline ticket to keep him company. But we know that Borat is not abandoned because, gee, someone is running the camera that tapes his adventures. We never see or hear mentioned the cameraman who must be schlepping all that video and sound equipment from New York to L.A. It’s like all those photos of the Barrow gang in “Bonnie and Clyde”—who the hell was working the camera?

I suppose my biggest complaint about the film comes from the fact that Baron Cohen is being hailed as a biting, clear-eyed satirist who sees the American heartland as it really is behind the pumped-up flag waving and Ten Commandments posted in the court rooms.

But is the movie really such a satirical gem? What do we learn from Baron Cohen’s guerilla theatrics? (His favorite tactic is to con someone into granting “Borat” an interview so he can make them look foolish, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, etc. Few of these segments even look authentic to me.)

We learn that some Americans are kind and some are not. Some suffer fools gladly and some not at all. Some want to do the right thing and some only want to appear to do the right thing. Stop the presses; clear the front page. Here’s the new headline: “Americans are Human.”

At a time when this country is being led by a pack of amoral morons in high places, and the people have been led into an unwinnable war for the monetary benefit of a few, Baron Cohen thinks the height of satirical insight is that the owner of an antique store in Dallas will get upset if you smash some dishes? He couldn’t find anything more stinging in Texas?

And he thinks that showing us his face in proximity to some guy’s penis, or shoved an inch or two into the asshole of a fat man, is funny? You just thought the sight of Tom Green giving a reach around to a horse was bad. Hey, I wonder if Green’s horse is the same one that pulls the car in “Borat,” hoping to get lucky again.

Here’s something to contemplate: if you don’t laugh, is it still a comedy? I vote no.

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