Monday, October 23, 2006
Borat: a review
I caught Monty Python and The Holy Grail again when it was shown last month at the Film Forum (my pity to those of you who still haven't seen it). What they did with a little bit of money was create the look of a medieval epic on the outside. But inside the writing of the jokes about funny knights and the French, there is a severe mistrust of authority, an attack on hypocrites, people who go blindly into war with no plan, and self-important types who twist laws and ideas to their own end. Nothing was taboo for a joke, and when in doubt, the Pythoners would attack no matter who gets offended.
Carrying on this fine tradition is another British comedian, Sasha Baron Cohen, in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. This isn't the first time Cohen has made a film out of one his characters from Da Ali G Show. I believe that was Ali G Indahouse from 2002. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you've been spared from the horror. Let's instead bring up Borat, the best comedy so far in 2006.
Shot in the mockumentary style that helped make This Is Spinal Tap a classic, we see our intrepid, anti-Semitic reporter learning what it is to be an American. Though really, Cohen manages at times to bring out the worst sides of some people, just by bringing up a more radical viewpoint then they themselves have. Several scenes at the rodeo highlight this, from the anti-Semitic gay bashing cowboy, to a crowd's cheer that every Iraqi is wiped off the face of the Earth in the name of democracy.
And the people's reaction don't appear to be scripted. Most likely, the Kazakhstan scenes and scenes involving Borat and his producer are scripted, or at least the scenes have their stories fleshed out with some key lines, just like "Curb Your Enthusiasm". Not surprising that Borat director Larry Charles directed 8 episodes of that series.
But the rest of the movie's fish-out-of-water-Crocodile-Dundee motive has the improvisational feel that gives the film energy. In Borat, the fish fights back with a satirical bite. And the camera appears to be out in the open all of the time, so people's true nature at that moment is out there, for better or for worse. If it's all honest reactions, or just reactions that took a lot of pushing by Borat/Cohen to get for the camera, or even if it's scripted, I couldn't care less. It's just too funny. And I'm guessing most of the people depicted here don't have HBO, where Cohen did his Borat character. But considering how Sex and The City ended in a whiny whimper and The Sopranos's quality remains inconsistent, no wonder they don't watch the network anymore. But I'll save the rant about HBO's continuing irrelevance in the realm of series television for another time . . .
Going into more detail about the film spoils a lot of the fun. I was worried, and slightly hopeful, that a scene involving some graphic nudity might get cut, but after hearing about both BORAT's R rating and a defecation scene in Jackass 2, methinks the nude scene will stay intact. Us New Yorkers definitely come off as being fearful of physical contact (not inaccurate). And in the preview I caught in Manhattan, there is one joke that left the NYC crowd in stone silence for about 5 seconds. You'll know it when you hear it.
But the candid camera style antics come off hilarious, showing off America as a royally screwed up, and yet, passable country to live in. It does this better then most documentaries, any propaganda for your own individual political party, and films like American Beauty, combined. It makes recent comedies like Wedding Crashers look a little toothless. Thank you Sasha Baron cohen, the comedic love child of Monty Python and Peter Sellers, for a funny film.
So go out and enjoy it. Unless you're a male over 50, or a female of any age, or an overly sensitive Jewish person with no sense of humor or irony. I hope you'll enjoy it, but will you be too offended by some moments here and there, I wonder. I think you might still enjoy it, but consider yourselves warned.