285 – Borat

If you like side-splitting hilarity that’s based on stuff happening to unsuspecting people (otherwise known as rubes or marks), then Borat (and its unwieldy full title) is perfect for you. Heck, even if you’re the type who cringes when people are put in embarrassing positions on film, this film is still your speed.

Borat is a mockumentary starring the title character (Sacha Baron Cohen), a television reporter in Kazakhstan who journeys to the United States in an effort to explain the “greatest country” to his audiences back home. Zany hijinks ensue.

Borat begins his trek in New York, but when he happens upon an episode of Baywatch in his hotel room. Ah, he spies the luscious Pamela Anderson in her role as CJ the Awesome Lifeguard. Well! That does it for the general-interest piece he was gonna do – he (and his cameraman, and his producer) is off to California! Let the sojourn begin!

Now, bear in mind that (apparently) the interactions Borat has with various Americans, of all shapes, sizes, and colors, are completely unscripted on the part of the naive citizenry. Borat travels to a rodeo, where he “sings” the Kazakh national anthem to – get this – the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and to the Deep South, where he receives etiquette lessons and attends a social gathering. He and his crew even get lost in Atlanta, where Borat not only gets directions but also some helpful hints on sartorial goodness from some locals.

The jokes and jibs always seem accidental, as if Borat is simply this unknowing foreigner who is not wise in American ways. At the same time, the proverbial seedy underbelly of Americans (that is, unseen bigotry) is gleefully, manically exposed; one gets the feeling that those who are exposed have no idea what’s happening. They’re just being themselves.

Everything about this movie hinges on Cohen’s performance, naturally. If Borat’s sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, boorish-yet-innocent persona grates, then the movie’s lost to you. And there’s Borat in a nutshell – he’s all these ugly, nasty things, but he doesn’t know he is. Why, he’s just Borat, a typical Kazakh peasant. He can’t be expected to know of our mores and rules, can he? Why, of course not. (In one memorable exchange, Borat is aghast that women in America can choose with whom they wish to have sex!)

There will be some who simply won’t like this movie. Those people either don’t get the idea of the Borat character or don’t have much of a sense of humor to begin with. If Bert from Sesame Street were real, he’d probably wander out of the theater after watching Borat with Ernie, shaking his head, wondering what it was all about. Whereas Ernie would be laughing his furry red ass off.

***1/2

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