Thursday, March 29, 2007

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America Make For Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

A few short notes on Borat (2006, Larry Charles) [78]:

1. I assumed, after the huge hype, the blockbuster receipts, and the inevitable backlash, that this would never live up to the acclaim and derision. I was very, very wrong. Consistently hilarious -- they had me with "The Running of the Jew".

2. But, as Mike D'Angelo said of A Mighty Wind, there's something to be said for a joke that's been written over an improv. Not that there's anything wrong with Sacha Baron Cohen's improv skills -- how he's able to find just the right (wrong) thing to say and still look like a naif speaks to an incredibly twisted, brilliant mind -- but it's the stuff that's been planned (like the infamous nude wrestling scene) that really kill.

And yet -- while the nude wrestling gets all the hosannas, the scene that really stuck with me was the frat boy encounter. Not so much for what they say -- although the bald racism and misogyny is shocking -- but how the filmmakers manage to incorporate the improvised scene into the narrative. (Borat is on a journey to find and wed Pamela Anderson, and the frat boys disabuse him of the notion that she's a virgin.) Charles and Cohen set up a traditional romantic narrative arc -- boy goes after girl on a pedestal -- and let it grind up against the ugly flipside of that, the madonna/whore complex that both supports that narrative and undermines it at the same time. Pretty bracing stuff.

Also, this isn't satire. Sorry people. It's just a simple comedy, a road trip not unlike, uh, Road Trip, that just happens to have some modern comedic devices. If you're concerned about "regular folks" ambushed on film, two things: a) Allen Funt, and b) this has more to do with our increasingly mediated culture than any "contempt" on part of the filmmakers. If you don't like it, then make an effort to get rid of MySpace, camera phones, and Bush's warrantless surveillance program. Oh, you can't? Then tough, deal with it.

5. Most Valuable Supporting Player: Ken Davitian. I can only imagine what the conversation at his audition was like.

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