Directed by Larry Charles, Written by Sacha Baron Cohen
On general release from 3rd November 2006
Unless you've been living under the proverbial rock for the past month
or so, you will have noticed practically every single reviewer in the
world competing to make up the most overblown description of how funny
this film is. And they're right, it is hilarious. However, one of the
drawbacks of being this particular reviewer is I that must analyse everything,
including why people think things are funny. And as someone who is normally
sickened by sexism, racism and homophobia, why do I laugh when it comes
from the mouth of this particular man, Sacha Baron Cohen, in his guise
of a reporter from Kazakhstan?
The Borat character has been appearing in five minute slots on Cohen's
TV shows for five years or more, confronting high and mighty Americans
with his detestable opinions and naivety about western culture. Those
segments were almost always memorable, as Borat drew embarrassing and
astonishing statements from his targets. The humour came when the establishment
figures showed that they actually agreed with their interviewer's bigotry.
Why is that funny? Maybe because they are removing their masks, letting
us catch a glimpse of the hatred and insanity we knew was there all along.
Perhaps we hope that this will lead to their removal from power.
This film is almost the complete opposite of those improvised routines.
To stretch the character over the length of 84 minutes, we are subjected
to a forced, highly scripted 'story' about Borat travelling across America
to find Pamela Anderson, who he fell for whilst watching Baywatch in a
hotel room. Pamela seems to be in on the joke, as does the woman who plays
a prostitute in a few scenes.
But there are still loads of great set-pieces, such as Borat telling
a rodeo crowd that he supports America's 'war of terror' (which they cheer)
and sings Kazakh nationalist lyrics to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner
(which they certainly don't). He also makes friends with 'Mr Jesus', causes
mayhem in a Confederate-supporting antiques shop, and tries to learn the
rules of upper class etiquette.
After Me and You and Everyone We Know (which will never be beaten) this
was my strangest ever cinema experience. Several times, the entire audience
howled and shrieked with laughter, only to fall deadly silent or recoil
in shock the very next second. Why? Because it's funny when someone pretends
to be outrageously offensive, but when a rodeo worker tells the camera
he wants homosexuals to be executed you can only fear for the future.
This can't be in any sense a true picture of America - that lies on the
cutting room floor - and it certainly has nothing to do with Kazakhstan.
But it is funny. I think.