A Welcome Visitor
Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian
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
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
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.
– 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
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.
from Breanne Boland