Cultural Learnings of America for Making Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
© 2006 Ray wong
For those who are not familiar with Sacha Baron Cohen's Da Ali G Show and his character Borat, you're in for a treat. And for those who know him, you won't be disappointed with this hilarious, raunchy, rowdy comedy.
Borat (Cohen) is a TV talk show reporter from Kazakhstan. He's sent to America to make a documentary on the "greatest country in the world" so Kazakhstan can learn from it. He and his crew arrive in New York City to do street interviews and report on American cultures. When Borat sees Pamela Anderson in a rerun of Baywatch, he falls head over heels for the actress and decides to drive across the country to California so he can marry her. He lies to his producer Azamat (Davitian) and convinces him that they will document their trip about the "real" America, traveling south through the Heartland. Cultural shock ensures.
Cohen (Talladega Nights) is a true chameleon and he stays in character at all times. His Borat is crude, rude and ignorant, but through his portrayal, he makes Borat funny and lovable at the same time. At times, his accent slips a bit and he comes off as less than sincere, but over all he holds up very well and never breaks out of character. His Borat is genuine. That's rather remarkable considering the outrageous things he says and does and the sometimes-violent and nasty reactions he gets. What's more remarkable is that the whole film rests on his shoulders and he manages to hold our interest through and through.
Davitian (Holes) has a most unflattering role as Borat's grotesque producer. You have to hand it to the guy to make his character so believable and such a great support for Borat, including some of the most incredibly offensive scenes. Together with Cohen, they really go all out to make this work.
Cohen uses the relative obscurity of Borat, under the guise of a foreign media reporter, to infiltrate the various fabrics of America and show us some of the truly outrageous aspects of the country. Borat might not be real, but the people he interacts with are, and their reactions to Borat are what make the mockumentary so funny. He gets to interview real politicians, celebrities and everyday folks and, in the process, ruffle some feathers. Many of his skits are cringe-inducing, including an interview at a feminist group, singing the national anthem at a rodeo, and learning dinner etiquette at a posh Southern home.
Granted, many of these skits have been done on Da Ali G Show, so Cohen is recycling his materials. But they work wonderfully in the context of the film and even if you have seen them before, they are still funny. And Cohen upgrades them so these hoaxes are now more elaborate. There are moments in the film that are beyond offensive and must be seen in a packed theater (preferably with college students) where everyone howls and claps at the same time. Kudos go to Cohen and company for going all out.
On their own, the skits are hilarious and superbly played out. On the whole, the film does serve as a strange social commentary of how absurd we, Americans, can be. Cohen's comedy not only makes us laugh, but also makes us think. For example, when a prostitute shows up at a stately home, Borat and his companion are ordered to leave immediately. Similar things happen at a rodeo. It shows us that in the land of the free, not everything is free. Cohen is able to make these observations from the eyes of a foreigner (albeit an idiot), and that message of looking at ourselves carries a serious undertone on top of all the raunchiness. Borat himself is a racial caricature, and the inherent racism and sexism in his character as well as the reactions he conjures really open our eyes. So while we laugh our asses off, we understand what Borat is really about. By telling the truth through his adventures, Borat gives Cohen, et al, a comedic power that is beyond measure.
Stars: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell, Pamela Anderson
Director: Larry Charles
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer, Todd Phillips
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive crude content including graphic nudity, language
Running Time: 84 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.8 out of 10