Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Borat: reviewing of film for make glorious blog of Not Right

On Sunday night, I went to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. I was a little hesitant to see the movie, because I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle it. It's not that I'm not a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen; I've seen Da Ali G Show numerous times and nearly cried with laughter every time. What bugged me was what bugs me when The Daily Show gets too snarky in their interviews; pained reactions that cross the line from funny to uncomfortable. It's one thing to lampoon a racist redneck or a partisan flack; it's another to meet with perfectly reasonable people and discover that they have no sense of humor. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.

Still, I steeled myself and bought a ticket. And it really is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. Love him or hate him, Sacha Baron Cohen is one of this generation's most talented and ballsy entertainers. According to imdb, he had the police called on him 91 times during filming and put himself in real danger in several scenes. This is a man who truly believes in his art, which shows in the end result.

The film was a lot more comfortable to watch than I expected, because most of Borat's interviewees have it coming. Homophobic rednecks. Drunken frat boys in South Carolina. A rodeo audience that probably committed mass suicide last Wednesday. And Borat's innocent-foreigner act (especially in the scene where the black guys teach him how to dress and talk like one of them) kills, regardless of one's political or cultural inclinations.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some subjects in the film are suing 20th Century Fox, claiming they didn't know what they were getting into and that appearing in the film has hurt their reputation. I'm no legal expert, but I doubt the plantiffs have much of a case. Being fooled by an obscure TV character is not a crime. And fortunately for millions upon millions of Americans, being a drunk jackass is not an offense. Even if one could argue these things in court, however, there's still the touchy matter of the release forms they all signed. Oops!

One interesting angle at play is that Borat's unwitting subjects assumed the film would be seen only outside of the United States. Which, of course, would explain everything; after all, who cares what a group of English-challenged foreigners think about idiotic American behavior? If their opinion mattered, God would have made them Americans! Right?!!

Actually, what it tells me is that the subjects were more concerned about being embarrassed than about being misrepresented. They figured they could get away with displaying their honest selves as long as their employers, friends or family would never see it. Again, oops. You'd think in this age of globalization and YouTube that people would always beware the camera. Guess not!

In April 2002, a friend and I were attending a journalism convention at the University of Arkansas. While sitting in a bar one night, we were approached by the host of a popular public-access show and her entourage. She asked us if we wanted to appear on an impromptu quiz segment, and (probably because the host was gorgeous and my friend was buzzed) we both said yes. As a crowd gathered around us, we signed a couple of things and were told to act really, really dumb. They explained to us that every show had a quiz skit and they'd put in a few dummies for humor value. So my friend and I spent the entire segment purposefully fumbling easy questions and mugging for the camera (though I correctly answered the political questions; gotta protect the reputation, after all). The next day I heard from several UA students who had seen the show and were most amused by "those dumb yokels from Louisiana." And then I felt dumb for real.

I've never seen the clip, though I'm sure it's itching for release if ever I rise to stardom. And it will embarrass the ever-living crud out of me. But will I sue? Of course not! I played along! No one forced me to do it, besides my own inner ham. Which, ultimately, is what compels most people to prostitute themselves in front of a camera. Without this need for attention, reality TV would not exist and Jerry Springer would be just another Cincinnati Bengals fan.

I don't care who you are, your degree of inebriation or your complete lack of sensitivity or sense of humor; it's entirely your fault if you act like an ass on camera. Assuming you're even acting. Anyway, every single person in Borat will eventually relish their place in one of the top-rated comedies of all time. If they aren't doing so already. For my money, the frat-boy RV scene was one of the best in Borat, and differed little from similar representations in fictitious films. Act or not, it's comic gold.

At its core, Borat is not a parody of Kazakhstan, nor is it a deliberate attempt to bring out the worst behavior in regular Americans. If it truly were either of these things, the film would be a poor effort. Borat and his sidekick speak a mishmash of Yiddish, Polish, Armenian and other dialects (none of which the average Khazakhstani would speak). Furthermore, Sacha would have better served in spoofing Borat's home country by depicting a society even remotely similar to the actual country. Instead, Borat is a multi-faceted testament to how Americans view the world and how they embrace (or don't embrace) the unfamiliar.

It's also got nasty sex jokes. So go see it.


Phillip said...

My favorite part was when they threw money at the cockroaches in the b&b they were at because they thought the jewish owners had turned into them. I was actually sore the morning after watching that film. Brilliant.

"We support your war of terror. I hope George Bush drink the blood of every Iraqi man, woman and child."

ashley said...

Walking through the quarter a few years ago, I stumbled onto where they were shooting an episode of "Street Smarts".

I asked the person interviewing the 'subjects' "Do you intentionally get stupid people, or does it just work out that way?".

She tried to answer me truthfully, then she realized I was insulting the show...by that time, I had crossed Bourbon St.

Reel Fanatic said...

I haven't laughed as hard in years as I did at Borat's movie .... I'm not surprised that people are trying to sue him, but those three racist frat boys, in particular, have noone to blame but themselves for proving to the world they are royal assholes

yournamehere said...

I knew from the beginning, during the "Running of the Jews" scene, that this was going to be a special film. Funny is funny, man.

"Give me your tears, gypsy, or I will take them from you."

Hillary For President said...




Anonymous said...

Borat was the WORST film I've ever seen. I could live without the image of him crapping and masterbating in the middle of New York City. The image of two ugly naked men wrestling in a hotel room is forever etched in my mind. The film was insulting to anyone with intelligence or dignity.

Since when are rape, incest, beastiality, sodomy & abortion laughing matters? If any American father showed a photograph of his son's penis in public or on film, he would be put in jail for child pornography. Yet Borat supposedly exposes his "son's" nudity and we all laugh and point? What's wrong with this picture??

Black women are portrayed as whores, Americans are portrayed as drunks, bigots, religious fanatics. Jews are highly disrespected in this film. Russian citizens are misrepresented as being ignorant, incestuous people. Women are only referenced as sexual objects.

Borat crosses the line between borderline humor and outright vomitous material. The fact that this film was a hit reflects just how low our entertainment standards have fallen.

Ian McGibboney said...

"Since when are rape, incest, beastiality [sic], sodomy & abortion laughing matters?"

If you're asking this question, then you have completely missed the point of the film. Saying Borat jokes about rape is like arguing that "Old School" is a film about higher education; it's there marginally, but only as a setup to something entirely different.

Sacha Baron Cohen portrays Borat this way as a spoof on American ignorance of foreign customs. Americans in general assume that they're the most civilized people in the world, and base this assumption on a condescending view of Eastern and Middle Eastern culture. Borat is a caricature of the people many Americans believe need to be "democratized" at the barrel of a gun. Which is exactly why no one ever called the comedian's bluff throughout the entire experience, on-screen or off. And, to me, that's the real obscenity in "Borat."