This week was the rare chance to see a film that most people have heard of, and have actually been to see. Borat, or if you want to use the full title, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, stormed into cinemas after making amused waves in the summer festivals. Critics were coming out with melodramatic statements like ‘you’ll laugh so much you’ll puke’ and the hype monster, as mentioned in the Brick review, was threatening to strike.
With all this in mind, it was with some trepidation that I entered the cinema. I was fond of Borat already after watching his appearances on Da Ali G Show, with his awkward interviews and finger-chewingly uncomfortable expositions of the backwards parts of American (people gaily singly along with Borat as he recounts the song “Throw the Jew Down the Well”). And with his foray into film, you won’t be surprised to find a similar format. Not that that’s a bad thing. Watching Borat interview a bunch of feminists (“our scientists proved that women have smaller brains”) or try his hand at driving lessons brings laugh after embarrassed laugh, as his subjects patiently deal with his sexist, anti-Jew views.
But to beef up the film, Borat expands into a full-on story, as the intrepid TV presenter explores America to make a documentary for back home, and falls in love along the way. All right, it’s not much of a story, but it gives excuse for some fabulous set pieces, the most notable being a fight scene that trounces the Jackass boys for sheer gross entertainment. Other highlights include the xenophobic nature of New York inhabitants (I’d probably run away too if a gangly ‘foreign’ type tried to kiss me) and the gun shop owner who’s happy to recommend the best weapon for killing a Jew. Borat has the ability to show the scariest attitudes of the voting US of A public, and manages to make Michael Moore style points in smaller, funnier, bursts. Not bad for a film with a ‘turd in a bag’ joke.
But, amusing as it was, my laughter didn’t turn into vomit as promised. Perhaps it was because the two bumper trailers I’d been exposed to featured a variety of the best punch lines. Perhaps it was the stunted interview segments, that when nestled into the rest of the plot ended up feeling a little awkward and tacked on. Perhaps the scenes featuring obvious actors cast a cloud of doubt over the supposedly ‘real’ encounters. I suspect it’s because the reviewers that went crazy over it had never seen Borat before, and the entire concept was like some shiny new comedy, rather than a TV-to-film creation.
Still, you’ve got to hand it to creator Sacha Baron Cohen. He’s created a lovable character, despite the outlandish views, and his physical comedy is superb. So yes, funny. But no, not the funniest thing ever. Tinged by the hype monster, I came out feeling ever so slightly let down. But for 84 minutes it’s definitely worth a watch, and for the sheer balls of Sacha Baron Cohen (intentional pun, there) I’m giving this an extra point. Borat makes CF1.