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

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (directed by Larry Charles, starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Vavitian, 82 minutes) *** out of 4 stars

When I first saw previews for this movie months ago in theaters, I jumped out of my seat with excitement. Having been a huge fan of Sacha Baron Cohen’s hilarious “Da Ali G Show” on HBO and generally feeling that anyone at this point who has not seen the show must be living under a rock, I was prepared for the hype. As it turns out, there are several folks out there who indeed have never seen the show, and my guess is that they are going to enjoy this movie even more than I did.

When I first heard that Cohen was going to turn arguably his most hilarious alter-ego, Borat, into a full-fledged feature film, a few questions came immediately to mind. For one, I wondered how on earth he was going to make a whole movie about this one character alone. Was there going to be a plot or was he just going to randomly shock unsuspecting Americans with his often unfathomable antics? And how was he going to get enough material to fill an entire feature-length film? Don’t most Americans know who Borat is anyway from the HBO series?

For those who still have no idea what this movie is about, it is a pretty simple concept and it is easy to see how funny it can be if certain aspects of it are pulled off correctly. Cohen stars as Borat, a fake character who lives in Kazakhstan as a news reporter and is sent to the United States to learn about its culture and make improvements in his homeland based on his findings. From there, he encounters the melting pot of diversity that is America and basically every stereotype about every possible ethnicity in America and beyond is magnified and pushed to the limit in unprecedented comedic fashion. I have heard people say that it is the most offensive movie that they have ever seen, while still admitting that they couldn’t stop laughing over the course of the film.

For those that can take the otherwise offensive ethnic stereotypes lightly, this movie is worth seeing. And those who are offended by this movie probably need to loosen up and recognize its decided lack of targeting any one particular group. Cohen’s Borat is from the Middle East and hates Jews, but Cohen himself is of course Jewish. In fact, the incredible amount of anti-Semitic commentary is actually more of an insult to Borat’s religious beliefs, as they come off appearing ignorant and unfounded. Over the course of the movie, every other imaginable group is mocked, from homosexuals and crazy Southern Baptists to extreme right wing rodeo men, left wing feminists, African-Americans, misled fraternity boys and even prostitutes. The dialogue is incredibly politically incorrect and is so far over the line that a rational person can’t help but guffaw uncontrollably from start to finish, recognizing the underlying comedic element of Cohen’s character: All of our stereotypes are utterly absurd.

The funniest moments of “Borat” are undeniably his unstaged encounters with Americans who have no idea what or who he is or that any of his antics are a joke at their expense. These are the moments that are most reminiscent of “Da Ali G Show.” Highlights include attempts to kiss random men on both cheeks in public, relieving himself in multiple ways in broad daylight, the always popular dinner party, “accidentally” releasing a live hen out of a suitcase on a public train, and of course, hitchhiking with some fraternity boys on an RV. Just as was the case on the HBO series, what makes these scenes even more funny than they are intrinsically is Cohen’s ability to somehow maintain an unwavering straight face.

Unfortunately, the movie isn’t able to stand alone on these unstaged encounters. Cohen’s major obstacle in turning this character into a full movie was certainly continuity, and as a result a “plotline” was worked into the madness. With plot comes staged situations, and while funny, some of the obviously pre-written scenes take away from the overall hilarity. The Pamela Anderson plotline couldn’t possibly be any more absurd, and while I suppose was necessary to make the movie work, the staginess of the scenes setting it up reminded me a bit of home-made mockumentary short-lengths I have been a part of.

Of course, probably the funniest scene in the movie is staged. It involves Borat and his producer Azamat, and suffice to say that the men are both naked. I will leave it at that. Aside from that scene, having Azamat’s character in pretty much any other part of the film seemed like filler. The two men speak pre-written foreign dialogue with subtitles for much of the movie. My wife, who is Armenian, noticed that Azamat’s character was speaking Armenian while Borat’s character was speaking another language. What’s more, the subtitles didn’t even translate remotely to the Armenian being spoken. I could have done without any of this.

Despite the relative lulls that the necessity of carrying out a “plotline” in such a film requires, the movie still works well. There are enough moments of unparalleled hilarity to merit many re-watches. That anyone can put so much effort into such insanity and maintain his calm in the midst of such indisputable comedic moments while all the while taking an intelligent stab at American culture is a credit to Sacha Baron Cohen.

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