The Less You Know, perhaps the better.
Therefore please don’t read this piece if you plan on seeing “Borat!: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” Don’t even look at it. Just stop, purchase tickets online, then head straight to the nearest movie theatre and witness this movie. It’s that simple. If you have seen it already, congratulations. You survived the experience and you may continue. If not, stop already. Besides, I’m too lazy to to explain the concept.
For those of us accustomed as we are to the ways of Borat, you won’t find much new in this, his first feature film. In fact, you will find a lot that has been simply re-worked from previous episodes of HBO’s absolutely fabulous “Da Ali G Show”: the botched National Anthem at a rodeo (on TV it was a long-winded Kazakhstan national anthem at a baseball game), the showing of X-rated family pictures (at least two times, including the wine tasting and again at the baseball game), the dissing of someone’s wife at a posh dinner, the pleas of “I like sex,” the naive homo eroticism, etc. Yes, Borat, we get it. Now do it some more please. It’s no secret that one of the great things about successful comedy is repetition. Think Kramer sliding into Jerry’s front room. Always funny.
Borat presents himself as a smiling, bumbling yet worthy subject himself. He’s an innocent amateur, but with an in-your-face pseudo-documentary style that leaves his subjects blissfully unaware of his shtick. They are only aware of his foreign-ness, and of their own willingness to excuse his cultural naivety. Perhaps this is what makes them to open up to him, and thus allows him to do things that, say, an American reporter probably wouldn’t get away with or even attempt. For example, the kissing on two cheeks for a greeting is a great opening for his subjects. Sometimes they get it and are fine, other times they are opposed. (The guy on the subway threatens bodily harm.) It’s usually awkward, but always funny.
Like any great comic, there is a darker and more subtle side to balance the more obvious humor. With Borat, I personally have no problems when he makes someone look like the homophobe and/or anti-semitic they most likely are. (Do they sign releases?) But what is even funnier is Borat’s reaction to any given situation. This is where the creator, writer, actor Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedic genius comes to the fore. His physical comedy, his improvising, is the key to maintaining the joke. Sure, there have been plenty of others who have done this type of humor before, where the person is not in on the joke. From Alan Funt to the UK’s Jeremy Beadle, to the more modern interpretors such as Jamie Kennedy and Ashton Kutcher; it’s not an original concept. But it’s also not really the best analogy as those are all self-contained episodes where the “gotcha” is the joke. Visual, interactive comedy usually comes at someone else’s expense, unwitting or not. Cohen’s repetition is the beauty of his act, the consistency of character and the absolute fearlessness he will maintain in pursuit of the joke.
I can honestly say that I’ve never laughed as hard at a movie as I did with “Borat.” The timing of the jokes meant that every time I (and the audience) had recovered from one joke, another was waiting at the station. Some things are subtle, and I’m sure repeated viewings will bear this out. And, some things are not subtle. Way not. Even the obvious things that you can see all the way from Kazakhstan are still funny, especially if you just go with it. One scene in particular, that involves two men fighting, might be the funniest scene ever committed to celluloid. It’s not just the physical daring either, it’s in the editing, the playing out of the joke. You can be prepared for it, as I was, but it was still the funniest goddamn thing I’d ever seen.
The Borat Express will drop you at several destinations. And you will laugh at every stop along the way.