This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Let’s get the only important thing out of the way first, before I head off on a meandering rant – the unwieldily titled Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is very funny. It’s at least, oooh, eighty five percent as funny as more or less everybody keeps saying. What it most certainly is not is the second coming of satirical comedy, as it is infuriatingly claimed by more or less everybody, or reasons that will infuriate me later on.
The plot, or perhaps framework is a better term, of Borat runs thus: Borat is commissioned by the benevolent Kazakhstani government to travel to America to, well, Make Benefit Cultural Learnings. That’s probably not too helpful. Um, basically he lands in Noo Yawk accompanied by respected rotund producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian) then does the usual Borat thing whilst travelling across the country in a battered old ice cream van with a bear to meet Pamela Anderson and take her for a wife. The usual Borat thing, for the uninitiated, includes things like meeting with groups of feminists and telling them in his own entirely imitable faux broken English that back in his homeland top scientists have established that women have brains the size of a squirrel’s, interspersed with a dumb foreigner routine and ludicrously over the top Jew bashing.
What more or less everybody appears to be saying about Borat is that it is the finest satirical work of the century, holding up a mirror to the dark, festering underbelly of a racist, ugly society, making for an Important film that shocks as much as it amuses. These people are blowing smoke all the way up inside your ass.
What Sasha Baron Cohen has managed to do is sell a dumb foreigner with funny accent routine as something far more grandiose than five minutes of rational thought would be able to justify. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and in fact we rather applaud him for it. There’s also a few moments where it actually does hit the levels of satire that it’s lauded for. In all, they account for maybe four minutes of the eighty four minute running time. The rest of is silly accents, funny walks and naked wrestling. Well executed and often deeply funny silly accents, funny walks and naked wrestling, to be sure, but not quite the revelation it’s been touted to be.
Anyone naysaying this heretical statement against the prevailing doctrine ought to ask themselves this – had the same stunts featured a guy using the best BBC English he could muster been saying the same things, would it have been funny and shocking, merely shocking, or perhaps just puerile? I rather contend the answer is no, yes, and probably respectively. What I can’t do is decry Cohen’s courage, with many of his crowd baiting stunts putting him in danger of a lynching which requires real balls. And I’m not talking about the naked wresting here.
Still, this doesn’t even put it on a par with Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends, for example. Nor is it going after anything particularly taxing – finding racist white folks in the Deep South isn’t exactly the discovery of the century. I believe “low hanging fruit” is the accepted managerialism phraseology. The point of the above ramblings, if you can be polite enough to label them as having such, is that low hanging fruit can taste just as succulent as the higher, loftier ones, and not only to you not have to describe them as lofty to admit you like them, you’re also critically deceiving yourself and everyone else if you do so.
Iconoclastic tendances aside, and we must now ask ourselves precisely who’s being pretentious, reviewers unable to admit they like silly films or reviewers who use words like ‘iconoclastic’ in reviews of silly films, I laughed as much during Borat as I did during any film this year, with perhaps the exception of Talladega Nights, and that’s the only important thing there is say about Borat. The rest? Hey, we’ve all got column inches to fill.