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Borat a glorious, irreverent romp

Erin McGinn | Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Every so often a movie will come around that is so offensively hilarious that there is no middle ground. The audience will either love it or hate it. In 1994, “Clerks” was that movie. In 1999, there was “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.” And now there is “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

Easily one of the most intelligent comedies of the last couple of years, “Borat,” starring Sacha Baron Cohen, has something to offend – and amuse – basically everyone.

Borat was initially created as one of the three characters that Sacha Baron Cohen portrays on HBO’s “Da Ali G Show.” Most recently, Cohen played the supporting role of Jean Girard in Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights” and stole almost every scene he was in.

In this film directed by Larry Charles, Cohen plays a reporter from Kazakhstan named Borat Sagdiyev. Borat – perpetually upbeat and heavily mustached – leaves his home in Kazakhstan in order to travel to the US and document the norms of America in order to help improve his homeland.

The movie begins in Borat’s village in Kazakhstan, but after a brief and hilarious introduction to his country, Borat is shipped off on an anthropological mission of sorts to America. Although his documentary was supposed to film solely in New York, he decides to embark on a cross-country road trip. His trip is inspired not only by his desire to learn more about Americans and their idiosyncrasies, but also by his deep infatuation for former Baywatch sex goddess Pamela Anderson.

Unfolding as a series of encounters with archetypal Americans, the movie aims at both individuals and social institutions, such as country rodeos, gospel meetings and TV studios. In essence, “Borat” is nothing more than a loosely-connected series of sketches, some funnier than others, but it contains enough verbal and visual gags to sustain interest for its brief duration.

Constantly open to new experiences, Borat is frequently shocked at some of the American truths he unearths in his travels and troubles, from the luxury of indoor sanitation to the rudeness of New Yorkers faced by a foreigner who just wants to be nice to them.

The movie initially asks the audience to laugh at the preposterous naiveté of a primitive foreigner from a backward country, but the movie is quick to balance that with poignant barbs at America’s endless follies and shortcomings. One of the satire’s strongest sequences is when Borat gives a rabble-rousing address to a rodeo, claiming he supports Bush’s “war of terror” and expresses his longings for the day when Bush will “drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq,” but then he turns the crowds against him as he sings a version of the Kazakhstan national anthem to the tune of the American national anthem.

Less than an hour and a half in length, “Borat” is a good-natured mockumentary, with very specifically-chosen subjects. Half of Borat’s adventures are “safe,” with fairly predictable outcomes and circumstances. The other half lead to the most uproarious moments, which truly have to be seen to be appreciated – and the bigger the crowd the better. Although the movie and the material is a little uneven in its pace, it still contains enough caustic interactions and sharp observations to keep audiences entertained throughout the duration of the film.

Rude, raunchy and ridiculously funny, “Borat” is a film that can easily be enjoyed by anyone who is willing to laugh at themselves – no matter how painful seeing the truth can be.