I don’t really know anyone of our generation in Britain who hasn’t appreciated at least one of Cohen’s various sketch characters, be it Ali G or Borat. I’ve always enjoyed Borat as a character and when I heard the character would be developed within the framework of an entire movie, I was excited and, at the same time, weary because all too often what works for a few minutes might not be able to stretch for 76 minutes.
And that’s both the problem and the genius of Borat; it’s basically an extended series of the same TV sketch format crammed into a terrible framing mechanism.
At first it souds promising. Borat goes to the US to make a documentary to take back home to his native Kazakhstan. But the whole Pamela subplot turns into a convenient and central plot device. I really disliked the entire thread of that part of the plot and it leads to a fair few crappy jokes (when he finds out that Pamela isn’t a virgin he gets all teary-eyed… despite his sister being “number four Prostitute in all Kazakhstan!”) but also leads to one of the best pieces of slapstick in the movie:
Yes that is a hairy, obese, hobbit of a man masturbating
So if we forgive Cohen for the framing and sit down and enjoy the sketches, it becomes a good film, if at times a little hit and miss. You’ve got the homosexual humour (“You mean man putting rubber fist up my anus was homosexual?”), the Anti-Semitic Humour (“These rats are very clever”), the black humour, the redneck humour – pretty much every form of prejudice is lampooned, and quite successfully, by Cohen.
It has to be said there are some moments in the film which feel completely staged and therefore lose their impact somewhat. Because what we want to see is genuine reaction from folks to the difference of Borat. One typical example is the aside in a house owned by a Yarmulke-wearing Jewish man and his good-natured wife. It gives us a couple of laughs but just feels false. But then, just a minute after that we see Cohen in a gun shop.
What is the best gun to defend from a Jew?
I would recommend either a 9mm or a 45.
Now that’s fantastic. And he delivers this kind of genuine reaction again and again. My favourite moment in the film was with the feminists.
“Listen pussycat, smile a bit.” Wonderful. Add to that the early scenes in New York (“Yeah you kiss me and I’ll pop you in the fuckin’ balls.”) Who doesn’t love New Yorkers?! A hilarious driving lesson followed by a great scene with a car salesmen and then with a weatherman make for some hilarious viewing.
The movie dips towards the end as it focuses on the Pamela-chasing plot and we see more examples of the staged scenes. During the fight with his producer, the two of them end up naked in a crowded conference room and appear to get arrested. Well how about those visas? Not sure how he would have gotten away with that if it was a case of ad libbing gone mental. The same goes for the scene with Pamela Anderson where he chases her around a bookstore before getting apprehended by police. It just niggles at the mind and that’s not the kind of mental reaction I wanted from the movie, which managed to fill parts of its potential.
So it’s definitely worth a night out and paying money for. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the plot and don’t expect the humour to be of a uniform quality. But do expect to enjoy it. Especially as a smug Brit marvelling at his (or her) transatlantic cousins.