Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan
By
David Jackson
11/27/2006 9:21:17 AM

There is simply no way that I could write a better review title than the movie's full moniker, Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan. Sasha Baron Cohen's spoof/documentary of American culture is so bad it's brilliant, offensively funny, insightfully repellant, and downright crude. It's recommended only to those with strong stomachs and loose morals – or, at any rate, those who can comfortably tell their morals to take a hike for 84 minutes.

The premise of Borat is simple enough: Cohen travels America masquerading as Kazakh reporter “Borat Sagdiyev”, filming interviews and events for a documentary. Hi-jinks ensue, as Borat's exaggerated unfamiliarity with American culture gets him into trouble with the real people who think they're talking to a real reporter. The practice used in this movie, familiar to many who frequent the World Wide Web, is called trolling. Essentially, trolling is saying or doing something offensive in the hopes of provoking a harsh response from your opponent. It's a risky technique: if they don't take the bait, you look like an idiot, but if they do, the payoff is unbelievably worthwhile. Cohen does something extraordinary though, with Borat – he makes the movie funny (at his own expense) even when people are too smart to respond to a cultural jab or faux pas. By simply playing up the level of the joke, you can laugh at the sheer awkwardness of the situation (what happens, for instance, when Borat calls a prostitute to join him in the middle of a fancy dinner party).

Still, the most amazing, jaw-dropping moments of the film are those where Cohen's trolling actually succeeds – occasionally, he provokes the shocking ignorance lurking beneath the surface of America. Two scenes filmed at a rodeo where Borat is to sing the national anthem stand out particularly. In the first, Borat interviews a participant before the show, who advises him to shave off his beard, saying that he could pass for Italian, rather than a Muslim. The man then goes on to rant about the various racial and ethnic groups ruining America, and condemning Middle Easterners as terrorists. Borat facilitates with a bit of nodding and some of the character's bigoted views, but it doesn't take much: the interviewee exposes himself as a blatant, unapologetic racist. The second shocking scene occurs when Borat goes out to sing the anthem. After introducing himself to the crowd, he plays up the bad-English-speaker card, telling the crowd that Kazakhstan supports America's “War of Terror.” They cheer. He declares support for America's men and women in Iraq (more cheers) and then says something about America bombing Iraq until not even a lizard can live in its barren deserts. The crowd still cheers. He finally gets them to quiet down some when he impassionately declares his hope that George Bush will drink the blood of every man, woman, and child in Iraq – but some people still cheer. So what does it take to offend these people? As soon as Borat begins singing (to the tune of the “Star-Spangled Banner”) “Kazakhstan is the best/ Country in the world/ All other countries/ Are run by little girls” he is booed and asked to leave. It's shocking how easy it is to see America's narcissism here, and hopefully it makes the audience a little more cautious of patriotism run rampant.

So sometimes Borat phases into full-on social commentary, and as it turns out, he's very good at that. Much of the movie, though, is sophomoric and juvenile, driven by Cohen's complete and total willingness to humiliate himself on camera. That's not a bad thing – see if you don't laugh your ass off as he asks (in his broken English) a group of black teenagers for tips on how to dress and speak, then addresses the clerk at the next hotel, “What up, vanilla face?” The much talked about nude wrestling scene is really unnecessary in its sheer graphic content and length, but they more than make up for it by then running down through the lobby and into some kind of convention, still completely naked. You'll feel bad about it, but you will laugh, and you WILL be entertained. The humor is razor sharp, and the commentary sticks. It's morally questionable, distasteful, and brutal to its subjects, but there's no denying that Borat hits the mark: this movie is a winner.

[Editor’s Note: every NT writer and reader under the age of 21 seems to entirely agree with this writer, David Jackson. Our writers and readers over 21 completely disagree. Shoot us a line and tell us what you think. wordgirl@nighttimes.com]

 

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