If you haven’t yet been exposed to Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedic dynamo behind Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
, it’s either because you don’t have HBO (where his material airs here in the States), or you don’t know anyone British who foisted upon you years ago (before Cohen was known in the States at all) a third-generation VHS copy of several BBC productions by one Ali G, one of Cohen’s characters. (I’m in that latter category, myself.) Ali G is a wannabe-gangsta who somehow cons “important people” into interviews; he positions himself as a means for Power to speak to Youth, but instead repeatedly serves as a means for Power to display its own ludicrous shortcomings. (I love the clip
of Ali G “interviewing” professional curmudgeon Andy Rooney. In three minutes, Cohen proves Rooney isn’t just a curmudgeon, but a genuine asshole.) “Da Ali G Show” has done quite well on HBO, and has been Cohen’s entry vehicle in this hemisphere, his previous film (Ali G Indahouse
) having been mostly ignored here.
Borat Sagdiyev is Cohen’s latest creation. This “journalist” hails from a version of Kazakhstan (thank goodness Cohen didn’t choose Armenia, says this great-grandson of one Minas Minasian) where the people are universally poor, ugly, hateful, and backward. He travels here to document American culture, but shortly after arriving on our shores, Borat falls in love with images of Pamela Anderson, leading to the convenient device of a road trip cross-country (through Red States, natch) so that he might make his way to Los Angeles and catch the luscious Anderson in his Kazakh “wedding sack.”
The film is a mix of oddball set pieces mixed with Borat’s improvised adventures in the true wilds of America — mostly in the American South. We see him in Jackson, Mississippi when the overlaid onscreen map shows him in North Carolina, but does it matter? Everywhere from Virginia to Texas, Borat encounters people who are repulsed by his crudity and his ignorance, but who somehow find an opportunity to display shocking amounts of each themselves. Witness the rodeo head-honcho advising Borat not to kiss men on the cheeks as is his “custom.” Borat makes it clear both that he understands and that gays are strung up where he comes from. Mr. Rodeo grins knowingly and his next words make it clear he can get behind that sort of agenda. Witness the gun salesman who doesn’t flinch when Borat asks what firearm he should buy to defend himself against Jews. And witness the empty-headed, hollow-souled evangelical Christians who literally take Borat into their arms during a tent revival that has the vibe of a witch burning. Every last moment is entertaining, but you may find yourself watching certain scenes through the cracks between your fingers. I couldn’t believe how long I was expected to watch two very hairy, very naked men (one of them short, obese) wrestle with each other. This is perhaps the film’s least intelligent moment, but the payoff was undoubtedly worth it. Yes, it’s that
sort of film, but with social commentary here and there as garnish.
If you’re easily offended, stay away, of course. But know that there are millions and millions of people who will see Borat
over the next few weeks. And they’re all going for the opportunity to laugh at people like you.