Sacha Baron Cohen introduced his sexist, socially inept Kazakhstan reporter Borat on his Ali G show on HBO several years back, and now in 2006 we’re presented with a full feature starring the character. Thankfully, the film sidesteps the mistakes made by Cohen’s Ali G movie and mixes satirically improvised interviews with scripted sections.
The surprise to Borat’s followers is that there is a heart in this movie, and a noticeably well-developed plot that ties the frequently hilarious improvised bits together. The movie follows Borat’s quest to find Pamela Anderson, who he falls in love with while watching Baywatch in his hotel, and make her his wife (his first wife dies early in the movie, and a poor hotel worker is forced to give Borat the news). To find his love, he travels in an ice cream truck with a bear in it across the country with his director Azamat and a rooster. Hey, it makes more sense than Jackass.
Borat is a really sweet character, and the contrast between his innocence and his bigotry make him lovable and hilarious. The audience really starts to support his journey, and when his heart is inevitably broken, it’s a very delicate moment for this type of film.
The Kazakhstan man’s racist and insensitive comments are the comedic meat of the movie, and it’s conceivable that some critics will miss that satire and decry Cohen’s apparent lack of respect for all cultures, particularly in scenes such as when Cohen visits a Jewish bed and breakfast and ends up throwing his money on the floor and fleeing in terror.
This isn’t a racist movie, though, and not because of a politically correct justification such as “Cohen’s Jewish, so how could it be antisemitic?” That, of course, wouldn’t be a valid argument. The movie is not racist because its point is to draw attention to the racial and social differences in America with a character so blatantly out of place that the differences and similarities are sharply highlighted. It’s impossible to miss this idea unless you shut your mind upon hearing the premise, as some people are sure to do.
If one can recognize that the humor doesn’t come from the comments themselves but rather their context, it’s brilliant and actually pretty thought provoking stuff, a hard argument to make about a movie that features a five minute naked fight scene, but true nonetheless. As Borat travels (mainly through the deep South), he meets quite a few American racists whose on-camera hate inspires shudders when foiled against our hero’s good natured ignorance, and we start to squirm in our seats when we recognize our own prejudices in the interviews. The movie doesn’t make fun of races, but rather targets racism and sexism themselves as a ridiculous and laughable set of concepts, thereby disarming them.
None of this would make for an entertaining movie, though, if Cohen wasn’t such a brilliant performer. His quick thinking and ability to stay in character perfect his illusion, and even the scripted bits are funnier than anything put out by mainstream Hollywood these days.
It’s not necessary for viewers to be familiar with Borat or Sacha Baron Cohen’s previous efforts for this movie to be entertaining, and it only loses a bit of steam in the last half hour (especially with its too-abrupt ending). This is one of the funniest movies you’ll see, provided you’re not offended too easily. There’s plenty to think about if you’re looking for it, and some great public reactions if you’re just looking for belly laughs. Cohen’s created a classic adult comedy here, and it’s a crime not to see it (at least in Kazakhstan, that is).