Friday, November 03, 2006

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

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan 2006

Let’s just lay this out on the table for all to read, we had not been looking forward to seeing the latest slap attack by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Everything you pretty much need to know about his own particular brand of comedy comes in the title to his movie: “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”.

We had sampled Mr. Baron Cohen’s prankster pieces on the HBO comedy series “Da Ali G Show, and found them a mixed bag of treats. Certainly, Mr. Baron Cohen was more than capable of holding an audiences attention with his patented brand of “Candid Camera” meets Andy Kaufman shtick. We got it. He would dress up as one of his three caricature types: Flaming Fashion Queen, White Ghetto Thug and Borat, the socially retarded immigrant from a Kazakhstan that never existed in this reality. Yes, it was fun to see him fuck with Andy Rooney or encounter people even dumber than his characters, but to us it remained a raunchier version of “America’s Funniest Home Videos”.

Well, we are not too proud to admit that we were pleasantly surprised at the solid story telling structure to “Borat” (We’re dropping the subtitle . . . please.) the genuinely funny and grotesquely absurd set pieces and most of all with the stunning revelation that Mr. Sacha Baron Cohen is actually in the tradition of the great Silent Screen trio Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd – a genuinely talented actor who is a gifted comedian.

Yes, we said it. A talented actor. But more on that later. We meet the title character of Borat in his native Kazakhstan which seems to exists somewhere in the eighteenth century Eastern BlocTwilight Zone” comedy world where cars are propelled by oxen and the populace’s favorite pastime is watching the “Running of the Jew” – a street fair celebration wherein a huge Papier-mâchéJew” is unleashed on a hysterical populace that attempts to avoid it mauling them or smothering them with a large egg. Silly, but undeniably funny in a jaw dropping manner.

And that is what Mr. Baron Cohen specializes in. For this is actually another foray into the popular comedy genre, “The Road Trip Movie” that has already been overpraised with this year’s most successful entry: “Little Miss Sunshine”. For Borat, along with his oversized producer Azamat Bagatov who is played to perfection by the fleshy stone faced Ken Davitian venture off to rediscover America in an attempt to upgrade their backwards countrymen.

As the ridiculously idealized “America” beckons them to come and discover the secrets of success, Borat packs his battered suitcase complete with live chicken (Possibly the best scene stealing chicken in movie history, if you don’t count the sandwich in “Five Easy Pieces”.), bids his fellow villagers goodbye pausing long enough to French kiss his sister, the fourth most popular prostitute in Kazakhstan and insult his jealous neighbor and off they go.

What happens next is a series of vignettes that grow in hilarity, shock value and scatological humor to provide one insanely entertaining and alternately revolting comedy. For Borat is the kind of social retard that Americans probably take for gospel truth when it comes to envisioning other cultures. Do Americans think about other cultures? We suppose lumping all dark haired men as terrorists counts. As we get to witness during Borat's trip to a Rodeo, which was a bit too easy a target in our opinion. What kind of American did Baron Cohen & co. expect to encounter at a Rodeo? The fun loving liberal? Moving on.

Borat proceeds to attempt to embrace and kiss every strange man in the streets of New York who alternately run from him or threaten to kill him. His chicken begins to ham it up . . . is that Kosher? . . . and attempts to escape at the most inopportune moments and Borat proceeds to check into a hotel where he washes his face in the toilet and begins his journey of self discovery by turning on the television. Once a beleaguered hotel clerk explains how to switch channels, Borat stumbles across a repeat of “Baywatch” and falls hopelessly in love with the mythical goddess C.J. Parker, played of course by the truly mythical Pamela Anderson.

His odyssey across this unsuspected land begins with the search for his new true love. The series of events that continue to propel his journey across the heartland and backroads of this nation range from slightly retarded to horrifyingly hilarious as Borat and Azamat encounter racist cowboys, racist society mavens in the South, racist drunken Frat boys and racist home boys on the streets of Atlanta. Hmmmm. There seems to be a theme here.

We were actually pleasantly surprised at the notion of a comic actor laying waste to the bigotry at root of the American society that entertains the notion of the “Great American Melting Pot” with outstretched arms of Liberty awaiting the huddled masses: as long as they are white and straight and Christian. The most hilarious moments for us remained outside the scatological scenes. For yes, while it may be shocking to actually see Borat return to a dinner table of guests holding aloft a bag filled with his own feces, it hardly qualifies as high comedy. It is the lowest of the low.

By now, you must think we hated “Borat” and you would only be slightly wrong. We hated many scenes that crossed the line from comedy to gross out antics that only a fat, drunken Frat boy would find funny. No, the reason we are recommending “Borat” to our faithful readers, is that during the disgusting mayhem and fart joke level of humor, Sacha Baron Cohen began to grow on us like a cancerous mole. He and his fellow screenwriters and director Larry Charles also were smart enough to balance the sophomoric with the sublime. And through it all, Baron Cohen and his co-star Ken Davitian are so committed to staying in character throughout the outlandishly brazen and sometimes dangerous “guerrilla filming” set pieces that they are to be commended for their resolve.

But if that were all that “Borat” had going for it, it would never amount to a movie. Now we return to the truly shocking moment when we realized that Sacha Baron Cohen was a not only a good mimic and clown, but a solidly good actor. There are two scenes where he actually dares to show us the human being inside the mask of “Borat”. One, when he first lays eyes on Pamela Anderson’s jiggling talents on hotel television set. The look of a man instantly smitten with love, and not just lust over such an impossibly unreal TV idol is one for the books. We have seen a lot of truly horrific “Romantic Comedies” in our time, and most of them fail to convey in two hours the look of love that Sacha Baron Cohen convincingly relays in a few scant seconds.

When later in the film, he realizes at the hands of the aforementioned drunken Frat boys that Pamela Anderson may not be the virginal Madonna figure he quite imagined. His devastation is so achingly real, and heartbreaking to watch and most entrancing of all: he manages to maintain the right balance of pathos while keeping one foot firmly planted in the comic aspects of the scene. To achieve that level of brilliant comic acting in a shit splattered road trip hijinks flick is nothing short of stunning.

By the time the film has wrapped up its various plot points, which it does quite nicely, “Borat” had completely beguiled us and yes, made us laugh out loud. For you simply haven’t lived until you watch Borat and Azamat wrestle in the nude for one amazingly long set piece that begins in their hotel room and extends throughout the hallway, elevators, lobby and conference room filled with businessmen and women who look on in understandable dismay. Outlandish? Yes. Ridiculous? Certainly. Funny? Absolutely. Bless you all!

Directed by Larry Charles
Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham & Dan Mazer
Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Anthony Hines & Todd Phillips

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat Sagdiyev
Ken Davitian as Azamat Bagatov
Luenell as Herself
Pamela Anderson as Herself

Directors of Photography – Luke Geissbuhler & Anthony Hardwick
Film Editing by Craig Alpert, Peter Teschner & James Thomas
Original Music by Erran Baron Cohen
Costume Design by Jason Alper
Production Design by Dan Toader
Art Direction by David Maturana



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