The art of comedy spreads into a wide spectrum. At one end, you can find wholesome classics like Bringing Up Baby and Charlie Chaplin films. Down at the other end, you will find the crude, rude, and brashly satirical. While more modern comedies find themselves at this deep end, not many can keep afloat for an audience who considers themselves mature by action, not just by age. In my opinion, Borat is one of those strong swimmers that gets it right, even when it is so wrong.
Before everyone professes their disgust with this film, I understand that Borat is not for everyone. To appreciate this kind of humor, you don’t have to be smart or in the loop. Sadly, you just have to be comfortable realizing that this glorious nation of America is full of crazy, backwards thinking people who can become the perfect punchline for this movie. By all means, if you are uncomfortable with racist jokes, sexist jokes, nudity or watching people reveal unflattering characteristics that they don’t realize will be in a movie, don’t make yourself watch Borat.
When this first hit theaters, I did not expect to be impressed by Borat. From previews, I guessed that we would see it, laugh like idiots and make some cheesy Borat impressions for a week and be done with it. Not only did I laugh, but I cried (mostly from laughter), got very involved in Borat’s journey and grew to love him as a person. And the universal truths (sometimes surprising and ugly) that he captured about the people he met were just astounding. Today, Borat has a spot on my dvd shelf, and I don’t have a sprawling collection.
What makes Borat work is the character Sacha Baron Cohen has created. From a fictitious Kazakhstan, Borat is a sweet, well meaning young journalist who is proud of his village, his family and excited to go see America. We are shown that ideals are very different and not at all politically correct in this Kazakhstan. His family is very proud of his sister, the number 4 ranked prostitute in all of Kazakhstan (with a trophy!), and one of his village’s family oriented traditions is The Running of the Jew. When he arrives in America, calling Borat a fish out of water is putting it lightly. On the New York subways, he attempts to politely make friends, but people are hostile toward him. Anyone who’s ever felt out of their element can sympathize with him.
His mission in America is to learn about American life to help out Kazakhstan. As events unfold, he falls in love with Pamela Anderson after watching Baywatch and convinces his producer, Azamat (Ken Davitian), to turn this project into a road trip to California. They’ll get a broader look at the whole country, and Borat can find a new wife. The movie quickly becomes a mockumentry/journey filled with unforgettable real life characters who reveal more about the real America than this film could have originally envisioned.
When Oscar season rolled around for 2006, Borat was surprisingly not forgotten. It earned a nomination for best adapted screenplay. I still argue that Borat’s writing holds up as well as it’s jokes. It holds a compelling narrative within its mocumentary style that lets Borat grow as a character. And considering the film’s critical acclaim, it’s running for Best Picture was probably not far off.
The premise of Borat was a bit of candid camera, to make real people believe that this was a real documentary. The local news segment really aired live on television, he really put his own twist on the national anthem at a rodeo (nearly inciting a riot) and a real driving instructor gave Borat a lesson, oblivious to the nature of the film. Many of the unsuspecting characters have attempted to sue the filmmakers.
The comic genius of this film comes from showing how real people react to and interact with Borat. We get a man in New York fleeing as Borat attempts to hug him. A rodeo manager shares some shocking homophobia. Young black men teach him a new way to dress and talk. Drunk frat boys willingly give him a ride. And an entire Pentecostal church saves and embraces him. Though it’s not always flattering, this is probably the most honest portrait of the American people in the past decade.
“When you chase a dream, especially one with plastic chests, you sometimes do not see the beauty right in front of you.”