Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Movie Review
Extremely funny, extremely offensive and only a little bit inconsistent, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (to be referred to as Borat from now on for the sake of all our sanities) wowed box office analysts over the weekend with an impressive $26 million (based on estimates) from only 837 screens, crushing two family-friendly in its wake. Borat, needless to say, is anything but family-friendly.
Sasha Baron Cohen stars as his TV character Borat Sagdiyev, who was evoking strong criticism long before he graced the silver screen. Kazakhstan has all but officially denounced the film as a deceptive and utterly offensive depiction of what the former Soviet nation is like, although the Kazakh ambassador recently noted that interest has never been higher in the country, either. Apparently, the country is not made up of cars that are pulled by mules, men who sleep with their sisters, rapists and anti-Semites. Regardless of the controversy, Cohen is absolutely priceless as Borat, as he is consistently effective and believable as this completely outrageous character. A man with a good heart but having a completely racist, sexist and chauvinistic view on the world, he smiles innocently as he offends just about everyone on the planet.
The movie itself is about Borat's travels to the United States after his government decides that he, as the top-ranking reporter in the country, should go and figure out what makes America so great so that they can duplicate such efforts in Kazakhstan. Along with his manager Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), he heads to New York and immediately starts doing everything that is not proper in the U.S., from taking a dump outside a Trump hotel to talking about women having smaller brains with feminists to believing that Pamela Anderson will become his future wife. Set on meeting Pamela, he convinces Azamat to head across the country with him to reach California so he can marry her. They conveniently happen to make their way through the Deep South, encountering everything from bigots to evangicals to horny frat boys (and a couple of unsuspecting Jewish people).
Of course, the ultimate punchline of Borat is that, presumably, most of the people in this movie do not know what they've gotten into at point of filming. While it is quite clear that at least some "skits" are staged and not always completely clear which ones are not, a good chunk of the film is claimed to be made based on real people's real reactions. Cohen is out to capture all kinds of racist and sexist viewpoints (one comment about destroying Muslims from what appeared to be a sincere rodeo manager is quite funny, in a shocking way), and he does so on many occassions. His visit to an evangical gathering, while ultimately somewhat wasted as he failed to completely embarass everyone there, captures a couple congressmen and judges making statements about how the U.S. is and always was a Christian country, exemplifies his purpose. But beyond the theme of the film is his intent to make as many people uncomfortable as possible, like when he visits the home of a minister for dinner, and, not knowing how to use a toilet, puts his shit in a bag and brings it back to the table. One of the women at the table is understanding enough to teach him how to use the toilet, though her tolerance goes out the window once he brings a black prostitute over for dessert.
Borat is the kind of film that is hit-or-miss with its punchlines, although it certainly hits the mark much more often than not. Some of the funnier jokes are shown in the previews, but not all of them. There is one long sequence where Borat and his manager race naked around a hotel, often wrestling with each other with one's testicles hanging only inches from the other's face. The scene is disgusting to say the least and drew mixed reactions from the crowd, but at the same time those reactions were exactly what Cohen was going for. Make everyone uncomfortable, including the audience.
The movie does struggle a bit more in the final act, as, after all, the film does have a plot despite being filmed with a lot of real people. Thus, more of the sequences near the end seemed staged, although it is fun to at least discuss the possibilities of what is real and what is not. When Borat is proposing to Pamela near the end of the film, it is unclear whether the sequence is planned or not, although the very fact that he didn't get arrested has to imply that some staging is involved. Nevertheless, after an hour of laughing at uncomfortable and awkward people, Borat does lose a little bit of steam.
This is one of those movies I'm happy to have seen, but have no real plans to ever watch it again. Entertaining from beginning to end, Borat is not for the weak-minded as it pokes fun at just about every race, nationality, religion and sex, but for those who can enjoy the satire, it is well worth it. The movie doesn't always work, but that's okay.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.