It's not easy explaining to his detractors exactly why Borat is so funny. To me, it's kind of like what Jackass would be if Johnny Knoxville and his boys had the brainpower necessary to become master satirists. It's insanity and discomfort on an epic level; it's lunatic stunts and unbelievable assaults delivered with a purpose; it's high-minded sarcasm and blistering social commentary wrapped up in a dirty brown, low-brow package. As a small part of "Da Ali G" show Borat was clever. Now as a movie, he's the funniest thing you'll see this year.
Borat is the brainchild of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, a mockumentary about a character poured from the mold of every bad third-world stereotype imaginable. In his native country of Kazakhstan Borat is a happy-go-lucky, well-known TV reporter with his own clock radio and a successful family. His sister is the fourth best prostitute in the country and as he demonstrates during his self-introduction, one hell of a kisser. Borat approaches life with a zestful enthusiasm, and he's completely unaware that he and everyone in his country are sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic bigots.
After taking us on a visit to see his village celebrate the running of the Jew, Borat explains that he's making a documentary for the government of Kazakhstan. They're sending him to America to learn what makes our country so great, and then bring back that knowledge for the benefit of the great Kazakhi people. He hops in a car, instructs the driver to start the mule pulling, and departs from his tiny, dirty village to head towards America.
On his original cable show, Cohen's formula was to travel America in character, forcing real people who weren't in on the joke to interact with and be offended by Borat. In doing so, he poked a sharp stick into the flaws of American culture, satirizing it while at the same time letting Borat make fun of himself. Unlike the movie version of Ali G (Ali G Indahouse) which abandoned Ali G's formula in favor of a lame, scripted adventure; Borat sticks with what made the character so great to begin with, and only amps things up by wrapping Borat's short collisions with random Americans into a single cohesive story with plot-driving scenes shot using actors. The transition between moments where Borat's reacting to and getting reaction from real people and when he's not is so seamless that eventually it becomes impossible to tell what's real and what's not in the film. It all flows together into one, complete movie. Every moment of Borat feels perfectly authentic, even when it's not. You'll get lost in the character, and forget when he is and isn't for real.
That's what makes the film so insanely funny. Borat gives us actors out in public doing their thing, and half the time the reaction they get from hapless bystanders is as funny or even funnier than what they're doing. Every gag Cohen pulls off is turbo-charged, since you're laughing at what he just said and then laughing at the way the poor fellow he said it to is taking it. Cohen's commitment to his character is total. So much of what he does is off the cuff, and the way he holds it together as Borat, the way he always seems to know exactly what Borat should do in response to others is awe-inspiring. He stays with being Borat in the face of anything: threats, physical violence, arrest. Nothing can sway him from sticking with the character.
The movie takes aim at both individuals and social institutions, and this time lampoons not just America but the world outside it by Borat's reactions. In a strange way though, it also says some rather nice things about our country, simply by comparison to Borat's backwards, savage little home. Ultimately though, it's offensive, vicious, and unrelenting in its satire of everyone and everything. It's also ridiculously funny. There are things in this film that will literally blow your mind. A day after I saw it, I still have a hard time believing that the Borat's big finale actually happened. How does he get away with it? It's a rare movie that manages to be disgusting, filthy, and incredibly intelligent all at once. Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius, and his new film is a comedic masterpiece. Oh, and wow wow wee waa is it ever funny.
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