Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit...
- Reviewed by: Mel Valentin
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Current Rating 6.7/10 | 272 Votes
Cohen also introduced Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakhstani television journalist on Da Ali G Show. Like Ali G, Borat’s appearances emphasized outrageous behavior mixed in with the often-outraged reactions of the “straight” men and woman unaware that Borat was, in fact, a fictional character and not, as he and his producers professed, a visiting television journalist from Kazakhstan, as he portrayed himself. Borat’s subjects explained away and tolerated his bizarre behavior as the by-product of difficult-to-comprehend cultural differences. They were right and wrong simultaneously. Now audiences everywhere will get a chance to see Borat in all his glory in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, or for brevity’s sake, Borat. The “R” rating, “for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language,” covers everything you need to know before deciding whether you want to give Borat a shot (and you do, you really do).
Here’s how Borat breaks down: the Kazakhstani Ministry of Information commissions Borat and his surly, hairy, corpulent producer, Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), to put a travelogue together on the “greatest country in the world,” the United States of America. After saying goodbye to his family, friends, and neighbors, Borat, Azamat, and their cameraman make the journey to the United States. First stop: New York City. Borat’s full-contact enthusiasm is unsurprisingly met with distrust, suspicion, and, on occasion, disgust. Borat goes to a comedy instructor, but doesn’t seem to get American humor. For example, Borat’s culture-based misogyny gets the better of him when he meets a group of feminists. After a brief exchange of “ideas”, they walk away in disgust. Borat, of course, isn’t the kind of person to learn from his mistakes.
Borat receives a life-changing revelation when he spots an old episode of Baywatch on television. Borat becomes instantly infatuated with the blond-haired, bodacious Pamela Sue Anderson (actually a ten years younger, pre-pneumatic iteration of Anderson). Learning that she lives in Malibu, California, Borat convinces his surly producer Azamat to go on the road, reporting on the “real” America. Borat and Azamat’s journey takes them to a Southern television station, where Borat’s antics send the station’s staff into paroxysms of laughter, dinner with rich white Southerners, a rodeo where Borat sings Kazakhstan’s national anthem over the American one (it’s not well received), a bed-and-breakfast run by an elderly Jewish couple, drunken frat boys in an RV, a Pentecostal revival meeting, until Borat finally arrives in the promised land (Malibu, California) and a fateful meeting with Anderson at a book signing.
As Borat, Cohen plays up stereotypes of backwards, culturally and materially deprived, anti-Semitic, misogynistic Eastern Europeans. Borat’s curly hair and bushy mustache, bargain basement suit, and mangled English make him an easy object of ridicule. That Borat is supposedly from Kazakhstan makes no difference (the preconceptions are the same, either way). But Borat is more than an object of derision. His naïveté, or if you prefer, ignorance of American culture and its mores offer up almost limitless possibilities for verbal and physical humor, but, dig deeper (actually not very deep) and you’ll find a relentless skewering of America’s “negative” values (e.g., racism and intolerance). And yes, it's all well deserved. Borat brings out the worse in his hosts, but it's nothing that isn't already there, often needing little prodding from Borat.
Humor wise, the simultaneous low point and high point in Borat occurs about three quarters of the way through as Borat and Azamat's relationship undergoes its most grueling test inside and outside a hotel room. The less said about this scene, the better, but it's a perfect example of the push past all boundaries and social norms that Borat indulges in repeatedly. And the benefit is all ours or at least those moviegoers with strong stomachs and sieve-like memories. All in all, minus the last fifteen or twenty minutes, Borat is one of the most brilliant comedies/social satires this year (or any year for that matter). It’s also obnoxiously crude, deeply offensive, often repulsive, and almost always hilarious. In other words, see it now before you miss the next pop cultural phenomenon.
© Mel Valentin, 3rd November, 2006
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