Sitting down at the local Cineplex, I awaited the much-hyped Borat movie. Since Borat is a comedy, I was bombarded with previews of other supposed movies set to make the ha-ha. “Let’s Go to Prison” and “Balls of Fury” were 2 of the coming attractions and I didn’t think one moment was funny in them. Tenacious D’s “Pick of Destiny” had a couple moments and I am a big fan of their debut CD, but I’m concerned that this flick is happening a couple years too late. We will see.
So the main attraction began, with Borat giving a tour of his village in Kazakhstan and I can say that without a doubt it is the funniest beginning of any movie I’ve ever seen. I’m not going to go over each scene, as I’m not a film critic and I would hate to giveaway any surprises. Let me just offer up, GO SEE THIS MOVIE. Just like how shows such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Office” have made the TV situation comedy seem forced, Borat is a revolutionary film for the big screen, as it further exposed the formulaic premises that the previews I watched prior to it are built on.
I know some that have put critical jabs at the Borat film are big fans of Sacha Baron Cohen’s work on the “Da Ali G. Show” and feel that the movie doesn’t live up to this high standard. HBO recently re-aired the show and I DVR’ed them all, so I could refresh my memory on them. While Ali G. has a lot of wonderful moments, I never felt his British rap character had the warm humanity of Borat. Sure Borat says the vilest things, but he does it with a child-like naivety that is hard to condemn.
Cohen has created a character in Borat that takes qualities from comedians like Peter Sellers, Andy Kaufman and Lenny Bruce, but with the added bonus of being a Jewish man playing a Muslim. In the Muslim world where anti-Semitic propaganda is used as entertainment, the character of Borat exposes their bigotry. While there are plenty of racists in blue-state America, Borat spends much of his time in red-state America, as there are more places to go in the South to hit the comedic jackpot he is looking for. Cohen’s character exposes how the most taboo subjects are often connected directly to our funny bones. It is an amazing tightrope that he walks and he brilliantly spends the whole film pushing us to our limits.
While I think many animated comedies like “The Simpsons” and “The Family Guy” are filled with great satire, I always point out to their biggest fans that these shows lack of reality make it much easier to pull off. Borat faces his targets head-on, making them players in his twisted Improv troupe. In my lifetime there have been different comedic movies that have pushed the comedic genre to a new level to which Borat can be added to.
I would begin with the early Woody Allen movies like “Sleeper” and “Bananas”, which mixed intellectual concepts with slapstick moments on par with the Marx Brothers. The next wave was “Animal House” which led to other films that questioned authority. At around this same time the Abrahams/Zucker Airplane movies, which parodied genre films with a rapid joke pace, exposed the Hollywood formula approach. Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries, which began with Spinal Tap brought a new realism that never existed before in comedy.
The best comedy films since then you could point out a strong influence by one of the above pictures listed. Cohen has made a film which takes elements of the mockumentary, but is as strongly influenced by a filmmaker like Michael Moore, who comes directly at his targets. Like Moore or “The Daily Show” (which took the template of Moore’s TV Nation), it is fair to question the fairness in the way some are exploited by Cohen. Outside of a few exceptions, I don’t look down upon the duped targets in Borat, as I know that most of us have prejudices that could be exposed if our souls were opened for public viewing.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” leaves all other film comedies in the dust, as it manages to put a magnifying glass to our world, while making us laugh so hard we gasp for air. I can’t think of another movie that has ever accomplished it so strongly on both levels. Cohen’s monumenental success with Borat will probably make it impossible to develop a sequel of its caliber, as his charlatan character is now out in the open. With the immense talent of Cohen, he will come up with other great characters, but Borat will be his crowning achievement. Congratulations Sacha, you have done something few can ever hope to achieve. Making a mass appeal movie that challenges the mind.