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Borat: A Welcome Visitor
Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian

Review by Breanne Boland November 16, 2006 Issue

Sacha Baron Cohen is the most gifted improvisational comic actor working today and one of the most scathing satirists. In addition to making the backward attitudes of Borat’s hero look absurd, he brings out the quiet, hidden prejudices of the people he interviews and interacts with. A tip: if you ever want to get a person to tell you their deepest, ugliest ideas and beliefs, just tell them it’s for a documentary that will only be aired in a country most people can’t find on a map.

It worked on the frat boys featured in one scene. Thinking they were talking to a silly, accented foreigner, they said such embarrassing things that they’ve filed a lawsuit, claiming that they were misled and forced to make decisions while drunk. Their drunkenness is obvious, but whose choice was it to say abhorrent things in the name of educating a foreign stranger?

All this could have made for an incredibly heavy and awkward 84 minutes, even more uncomfortable than Baron Cohen’s Da Ali G Show. Fortunately, the more difficult parts are leavened with loopy, lilting comedy, scripted scenes that bind the improvised parts together – all without making a totally uneven movie.

Borat Sagdiyev sets off from his native Kazakhstan with a producer and money for a documentary about the United States. This is the ruse at the base of all of his encounters with normal people — he visits a comedy instructor, an etiquette teacher, a rodeo, and other “typical American” experiences. Most often, people are incredibly kind to him, even if it borders on condescending, but it’s when they become unguarded around the apparently sexist and anti-Semitic Kazakh man with them that the film is especially revealing. While the “documentary” was supposed to be filmed in New York, after a chance viewing of Baywatch Borat falls in love with Pamela Anderson. The film becomes a road trip as they drive across the country to Los Angeles so that he can marry his true love.

Borat is riotously funny in many many ways. But as the lawsuits prove, it is not for the easily offended. Here are a few of the things you will see in this film: poo, cruelty to a pastor’s wife, a chicken in peril, testicles, and people speaking in tongues. However, if you can stomach it, if you can clench your teeth and get through the uncomfortable parts (or just scream, as my audience often did), Borat will probably be the most original and affecting comedy you’ll see this year. That’s not affecting in the heart-warming, moving way — rather than making you feel that the human spirit has triumphed, you’ll probably be eyeing the people around you, wondering what horrible things they might say under the right conditions. Or what stupidity might come out of your mouth. The best comedy is enlightening as well as amusing, and Borat is a great comedy.

Also, remember that in the years and years Baron Cohen has been doing this character, he has never washed Borat’s grey suit. Apparently at this point, you can smell him from several feet away. Fortunately, smell has yet to permeate film, but the experience isn’t any easier because of it.

Bottom line: Not Make Benefit for Kazakhstan, but good for us

Coming Attractions

Nov. 17

Fast Food Nation – The worst book for reading while eating (or for eating fast food ever again) has somehow been transformed into a linear story. With Greg Kinnear and Bruce Willis.

Casino Royale – James Bond goes back to the beginning. Having a new Bond is always a much-discussed risk (a blond? Oh my stars and garters!) But just the prospect of something new in an often-stale franchise is worth seeing.

Happy Feet – A preview of what toy stores and Happy Meals will contain for the next few months. A smorgasbord of cute CGI penguins singing and dancing, voiced by Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, and Hugh Jackman.

Nov. 22
Tenacious D in “The Pick of Destiny” – Jack Black and Kyle Gass’s great trick has always been being so hilarious that you don’t notice they’re actually pretty good musicians. Trying to become the world’s greatest band leads them to try to steal a magical guitar pick from a museum.

DÈj‡ Vu – Denzel Washington stars in Tony Scott’s big action movie with woo-woo overtones. Washington’s character, an ATF agent, encounters a secret government agency that works with clairvoyance and other things making for an incredibly annoying preview.

The Fountain – This movie has been in the making for years and years, changing stars and being delayed several times. Usually that doesn’t speak well of a film, but this one looks like the first of a little wave of intelligent sci-fi this season.

More from Breanne Boland

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