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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Borat Movie is just O.K.

Jagshemash!!!! I like you.

These are the words with which Sacha Baron Cohen begins virtually all of his skits when playing Borat, the Kazakh news reporter. The movie, Borat: Cultural Learning of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan begins with the same four words. We saw the movie last night with Sarah and Damien. It was OK. I plan to talk about it in some detail in the following entry here, so if you have not seen the movie, be forewarned that it contains some spoilers.

Erin and I first saw Borat on Da Ali G Show when we were staying in San Fransisco. We had free HBO. In the skit we saw, Borat was attempted to learn karate and asks the instructor "What is a move to stop a Jew?" and "What is a move to silence a woman?" At first we were baffled, but once we figured out Cohen's variety of humor, we were hooked.

I maintain that I think Sacha Baron Cohen might be the funniest person alive. I also think that, in comparison to other movies, the Borat movie is extremely funny and definitely worth watching.

That being said, the movie definitely lacks something that makes the character on the show so funny. Take, for instance, the scene where Borat is dining with some upper-class Southerners. Those viewers who are seeing Borat for the first time should know that the scenes in the movie are often adaptations of skits Borat has done on the show. The scene in the movie is funny, especially when Borat excuses himself to the bathroom and returns with a plastic bag full of shit. There is also the element that he is simultaneously, in another situation with shots of the two scenes being intercut, learning manners from an etiquette coach.

This exact format was done on Da Ali G Show, only it was much funnier. The Borat in the movie lacks some key elements of the Borat on the show, namely subtlety, believability, and confusion. On the show, Borat talks about having sex at the table and seems confused that the topic is unacceptable. In the movie, Borat orders a prostitute that shows up at the house. On the show, he merely tells people that he is glad his wife is dead and points out that he smells shit. In the movie, he shows up with a bag of shit. It's just not believable and Borat's follies seem less based on cultural stupidity than a rush for a prank. Also, the scenes in the movie seem staged. I don't know if they all were or not.

The movie also focuses more on the storyline, which is Borat trying to get to Pamela Anderson, and less on Borat's interaction with people. Another element of Borat that fails to translate into the movie is Cohen's use of antisemitism as the butt of jokes. Borat, being Kazakh, is antisemetic - Cohen is Jewish and the pith of the humor is how stupid he makes antisemitic people look. In the movie, antisemitism plays a prominent role in the humor, but it lacks the poignancy of a country music hall full of people singing "Throw the Jew down the well." Instead, antisemitism is parodied in more outlandish and ridiculous ways that just never approaches at the genius of the show.

Chances are that you will think the movie is funny. I do think it's funny, but it just never quite arrived at the level of humor Borat attains on Da Ali G Show. He's just not confused enough. It seems that maybe when making the movie, Cohen and others didn't trust that a large movie audience would have the same patience and attentiveness that the show presumes and replaced subtlety with slapstick. Oh well.

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