2006Director: Larry Charles
Cast: Sascha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson
ho wants to read another glowing Borat review at this point? Not me. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any Internet-savvy reader who hasn’t grown exhausted from all the pre and post-release hype. By now, just five days after its limited 800-screen release, you’ve probably already seen it. So have your friends. Maybe even twice. It’s that kind of movie; the all-too-rare honest-to-god event picture in a cinematic world filled with nothing but facsimiles.
In fact, its pointless to provide another tired re-hash of the rightfully thin plot (ersatz Kazakh goes to America, heads out on road trip, discovers several celluloid reels worth of ignorant, racist, and homophobic Americans), because there are really only two questions left to consider: 1) Is this the funniest comedy ever made?; and 2) What meaning can be gleaned from Baron Cohen’s genius and perhaps landmark work?
To answer the first question: Yes and no. The movie itself delivers as many laughs as you could possibly expect from its 82-minute run time. Most impressive is the film’s ability to operate on different levels. Fans of highbrow satire will be impressed by the way in which the film is alternately hilarious and grotesquely unsettling. In many regards, Borat sheds light on the infamous question posed on the front page of the British newspaper The Mirror after George Bush won the 2004 election: How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?
But unlike many films that elicit laughter from sly social commentary, Borat likewise satisfies connoisseurs of toilet humor as well as any movie made since the Something About Mary/Kingpin heyday of the Farrelly brothers. Indeed, the film is chockfull of gross-out gags, including a nude wrestling scene that might just be the most disgustingly hilarious thing I’ve ever seen. All in all, I wouldn’t argue with anyone who claimed that this was the pinnacle of comedy. Then again, the Coen brothers, Christopher Guest, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone could each make their own convincing case for The Big Lebowski, Waiting For Guffman, and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, respectively.
However, what makes Borat great isn’t merely its gut-busting hilarity, but rather the way in which it illuminates the state of America in the year 2006. Despite all the liberal bromides about there being blue states and red states, Americans’ political differences don’t diverge at state lines. If you travel into the rural Central Valley of California you’ll find people as conservative as you’d find in the backwater hamlets of the Deep South. Head to Atlanta and you’ll find people as liberal as the Bay Area radicals. The truth is, the split in America falls along rural vs. urban lines, a fact that Baron Cohen seems to realize all too well.
In many ways, Borat can be seen as the modern-day comedic analogue to Easy Rider and its tagline: “A man went searching for America and couldn’t find it anywhere.” Of course, like Capt. America and Billy, Borat/Baron Cohen finds a country filled with ignorance and prejudice. In 2006, Cohen is still able to find people willing to go on record lamenting the 13th amendment and eagerly advising him which gun is the best to shoot Jews. Where the duo of Easy Rider found racist rednecks who refused them lodging and food, Borat is eagerly welcomed by their children, willing to open their arms to indoctrinate the naïve foreigner into their world of God and guns.
If this sounds like a bit of liberal feel-goodery, the sort of picture that inspires smug lefties to convulse in their seats, whispering to the person next to them about how backwards Southerners are, it’s because Borat is exactly that kind of picture. And indeed, if this film had been scripted, it would seem over the top and contrived, lacking in nuance and subtlety. But the genius here lies in the fact that Borat’s victims willingly incriminate themselves. These people are a part of America. For better or worse. And as you leave the theater, it’s that thought specifically that keeps running through your head.
Borat is playing in theatres across the country.