Thursday, November 8, 2012


Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian

Borat (Cohen) is a television personality for Kazahstan national television. In order to, well, make benefit glorious nation of Kazahstan, he and his producer Azamat (Davitian) set off for America. Once there, Borat becomes infatuated with Pamela Anderson from watching old Baywatch reruns, and becomes insistent on traveling across America to California in order to meet her. Along the way, he interacts with several unwitting Americans, exposing uncomfortable cultural truths about our country.

In order for me to write about Borat, I have to explain something about myself. I’m kinda snooty. And I’m okay with that. After all, a little pretension never hurt anybody. I’ve always liked things that are kinda snooty. I love intense film dramas, classic literature, classical music, and bel canto opera. I do not listen to pop music, I think it’s a waste of time, and I realized that when I was in sixth grade. You give me a choice of anything in the world to listen to, and I’ll probably pick Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore or Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. See, I’m such a snob, I call the operas by their Italian names.

Common or lowbrow humor usually does phenomenally little for me. Superbad was gawdawful. I had to physically leave the room about thirty minutes into The Hangover, I was enjoying myself that little. Real Housewives, Kim Kardashian, Jersey Shore - I weep for the future because of the success of such things.

So when friends of mine suggested one night that we cap off a weekend of festivities by going to see Borat, I wasn’t exactly thrilled, but hey, we were with friends, I went along for the ride.

And, um, I then proceeded to laugh harder than I ever had in my entire life.

I need to reiterate that: Borat made me laugh harder than any movie ever had before.

You know how, if you’ve been laughing for awhile, suddenly EVERYTHING becomes phenomenally funny? You get yourself into hysterics, and just the slightest thing causes you to giggle and you can’t stop? Borat managed to get me to that state about twenty minutes into the film. Everything made me laugh, and then every successive gag made me laugh even harder. I couldn’t stop laughing. I could barely breathe. I was laughing at parts that no one else was laughing at, and my trying to stifle my laughter because I was the only one laughing in the audience and I didn't want to stick out - well, it made me laugh even harder.

I was laughing so much, my husband kept looking over at me and asking if I was okay. Still to this day, he attests that he’s never seen me in such a state as I was in that night in the theater.

Based on my general taste in all things cultural, I *shouldn’t* be as amused by Borat as I am. But apparently, there is a very base, crude, lowbrow level of humor that, amazed as I am, I actually like. Because holy s&#@, Borat is base and crude. There are sex and poop jokes galore, genitalia jokes up the wazoo, and plenty of things that are so uncouth, they become uncomfortable to watch. Normally, this sort of thing really turns me off; I grow uncomfortable with humor that puts others in humiliating circumstances, and Borat is full of that.

Somehow, though, the cruel jokes and toilet humor worked for me with this movie, and I think that’s because of how deftly Baron Cohen lacerates cultural opinions in America. When Borat arrives in New York City, he tries to be friendly to the strangers in the subway, but he is completely and violently rebuffed. Yeah, we can be pretty damn standoffish, you’re right. For as progressive as we Americans pride ourselves on being, we’re really not, and Baron Cohen goes to town on that idea in this film, exposing ignorance and intolerance, putting it out in plain sight. Some of the things that these people say… wow. The rodeo cowboy who tells Borat to shave his moustache because he looks too much like a Muslim – yikes. The fraternity brothers who drunkenly insist that we should still have slavery and yell at Borat to treat his women like the bitches that they are – wow. This isn’t just a film filled with random crude humor. Underlying all of it is perhaps some of the sharpest social satire I’ve ever seen.

Does Borat hold up? No, not completely. A great deal of its power comes from the shock and awe style of entertainment, and once you know that Borat brings his poop to the table of a dinner party, you know what’s coming the second time you see it, and it loses a great deal of its unexpected humor. Plus, I have to say, it can be a bit much in terms of its cruelty. As I said before, I usually get uncomfortable watching people be humiliated, and Borat is no exception. Borat worked for me incredibly well the first time I saw it, but I haven’t laughed nearly as much the few times I’ve rewatched it. Personally, I am a huge fan of watching movies over and over again, so if a movie doesn’t stand up to repeated viewings, that’s a mark against it in my book. Borat falls squarely into that category.

Ultimately, though, Borat is not just another movie for me. Being a film fan, I like to make lists about all things related to the movies, and one of those lists is “Best Theater Experiences.” No doubt about it, Borat makes that list, and it won’t ever get bumped off. I had never laughed like that at a movie before, and I’ve yet to laugh like that at a movie since. Sure, it’s cruel, has too much potty humor, and doesn’t stand up to repeated viewings, but holy crap, I couldn’t breathe when I watched it the first time I was laughing so hard. Borat’s a winner in my book.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10


  1. I really liked this film in the cinema too, though I don't think I laughed at it quite as much as you. You're completely right about it not working nearly as well second time around, especially if it's watched on your own, stone cold sober and in the middle of the day, like I did.

    1. Stone cold sober doesn't make this film nearly as funny as a few drinks do. When I popped it in to help me write this review, I laughed a lot in the first half hour or so, but then it kinda died away. There's a distinct fall-off there.

      I just... honest to god, I have never laughed like that before or since. I'm still somewhat flabbergasted by it.

  2. Well, this pretty much perfectly contextualizes my thoughts on why I hate lowbrow movies like The Hangover, and also why I bizarrely liked Borat and, like you, laughed more often than just about any other film on the list. Well done.

    1. Thanks very much! I was NOT expecting to like this movie, but boy, it really worked for me.

  3. At a recent sporting event (I do not remember which) Kazahkstan won, but accidentally the national anthem played was the one from Borat.
    That tells me:
    a. The impact Borat had
    b. That the hosts of the sporting event had sense of humour
    c. The total lack of same from the Kazakhstani delegation.

    1. I'm a bit of a fan of the Kazakh cyclist Vinokourov, and I always think of Borat when I think of Vino.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experiences. They help clueless people like me who are completely baffled by the popularity of this movie. I should state up front that I was not offended by anything in this movie. I just simply didn't find it funny. I laughed exactly once (the reaction shot of the little girl in the car when she sees the bear). I spent the rest of the movie waiting for someone to kick his ever loving ass, then being disappointed when it didn't happen. Although it could very well have happened and Baron Cohen left it out on purpose to make himself look like he got away with it. I know he got arrested for the naked wrestling stunt, but I can't remember if that was shown in the movie or not.

    And I don't consider myself highbrow, even though friends of mine would for something as simple as watching foreign films and not watching "reality" shows. For what it's worth, I laughed quite a bit at The Hangover, but not at this year's comedy entry Bridesmaids.

    1. I think the cops were called several times over the course of filming, and Baron Cohen was arrested more than once!

      I honestly still don't know entirely why I laughed as much as I did, but it was a phenomenal experience.