Sweet Mother of God, this is one damn funny movie! Why? Well… I’ll try to give you an idea but as we all know, a joke is never funny when you have to explain it. Either you get why Borat is hilarious or you don’t.
On the most superficial level, this is about one hell of a goofy bastard. Borat Sagdiyev is a reporter from Kazakhstan with no education, no class and no sense of dignity. With his unkempt mustache, cheap suit and thick accent, he’s basically your stereotypical Eurasian tourist. When he displays his absolute lack of understanding of things we take for granted like how to use a toilet, makes the most offensive racist and sexist remarks or does some randomly absurd thing like drive around in an ice cream truck with a bear (“For protection!”), there’s a temptation to just laugh and think, “Oh, Those Darn Foreigners!”
Here’s where it becomes interesting: that very condescending attitude of assuming that foreigners acting like goofy bastards is to be expected is what’s really being spoofed here. British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (who first shot to fame as Ali G, a similarly dimwitted persona he took on to trick unsuspecting subjects) goes out in the real world as Borat and behaves in the most inappropriate ways and, at least until he truly goes too far (which does happen quite a bit!), no one wises up to this being an act. Baron Cohen must truly have extraordinary self-control to never break character or even wink to the camera. Through all the TV bits he did and through this feature film, he never falters from simply being Borat, and even us in the audience who are in on the joke sometimes forget he’s a pure creation.
Much of the humor here is about awkwardness, those moments when someone does something truly ridiculous but you do not dare laugh at him. To go back to the example of Borat not knowing how to use a toilet, it’s pretty funny on its own, but what truly sells it is when his hostess explains it to him in all seriousness. Baron Cohen’s performance is comic genius but more often than not, the bigger laughs come from the reactions of his “victims”!
Another element that elevates the film into more than just a jolly good time (though that’s worthy by itself) is how Borat tends to expose some of the most disturbing aspects of groups and individuals. As the title succinctly (ha!) suggests, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” has our favorite bumbling journalist taking a road trip across the United States and meeting various folks (there’s also a subplot about wanting to marry Pamela Anderson and getting into her “vagine”, but I’ll let you discover the specifics for yourself!). Coming off as harmless and ignorant as he does, Borat gets people to let their guard down and either implicitly approve of his prejudices or downright join in and pile up some more. It gets to a point where, as he’s practically encouraged into shopping for a car that can drive through Gypsies, buying a gun to defend himself against the Jews and treating women like crap, you’re not even sure anymore whether to laugh or cry.
But don’t get me wrong: most of the time, you’ll just piss yourself laughing! There’s nothing more subjective than comedy, but I couldn’t fathom a single breathing soul not cracking up during Borat’s nude tussle with his producer Azamat Bagatov (played by the supremely game Ken Davitian). I for one was HOWLING! So there you have it: I tried my best to convince those unfamiliar with Baron Cohen’s cult character of how great he and his big screen debut are, without lazily spoiling gag after gag. Here’s hoping it worked, because otherwise you’ll be missing on what is, yes, one damn funny movie.