"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Bawdy, quick-witted, and unrelentingly hilarious, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” is possibly the funniest movie ever made. “Da Ali G Show” mastermind Sacha Baron Cohen plays the Kazakh character Borat Sagdiyev, which Baron Cohen developed and polished during the run of his cable television show, to impossibly hilarious heights in a movie that combines all facets of postmodern cinematic satire. Baron Cohen melds the pranking of “Jackass,” the punking of “Punk’d,” the satire of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and the inventiveness of Mel Brooks to create an original brand of comedy that stands alone as a defiant manifesto for compulsive laughs.
This film-within-a-film finds Borat, “the second most successful reporter in all Kazakhstan,” leaving his native third-world village of Kuczek to make a documentary about America, a magical place that he can only barely begin to comprehend. Upon arriving at his hotel in Manhattan, Borat discovers the erotic phenomenon of CJ (Pamela Anderson) while watching an episode of “Baywatch,” and resolves to travel to California with his documentary producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) in order to marry her. Along the way, Borat takes his reporting duties seriously, interviewing members of a feminist group, political yahoo Alan Keyes, a humor coach and a Southern etiquette mentor, in a random effort at uncovering American conventions to pass along to the Kazakh public through Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Information.
“I like a you; I like sex. It’s nice.” It’s with these few provocative words that Baron Cohen grabs his audience by their guts and pulls them into his primitive yet sophisticated formula for mocking everything from racism and hypocrisy to the disparity of wealth and the narcotic effects of pop culture.
The first overtly outrageous episode comes after Borat explains that although Kazakhstan is a glorious country, its three main problems are “economic, social and Jew.” Borat reports on his country’s annual “Running of the Jews,” wherein boys dressed in white with colored sashes around their waists run from giant papier mache monster heads of a Jewish husband and wife. The surprising punchline comes when the female figure stops in the middle of the road to lay a giant egg, which the local boys viciously kick apart. Baron Cohen, who is himself Jewish, goes on to roast anti-Semitism later in the film when Borat and Azamat seek shelter at a Southern bed and breakfast hotel unexpectedly operated by an elderly Jewish couple. In order to escape the hotel, Borat throws money at a couple of potato bugs on his room’s floor that he believes represent the shrunken embodiments of the hotel’s owners. The absurdist humor is all the more funny for the film’s distinctly low-fidelity visual effects, which include a couple of garden-variety insects.
Perhaps the most socially over-the-top sequence comes when Borat sings the tune of the “Star Spangled Banner” replaced with alleged lyrics of the Kazakh anthem at a Salem, Va., rodeo filled with a stereotypical red-state audience. Before singing a note, Borat delivers a pro- “war-on-terror” rant hoping that “George Bush drinks the blood of every man, woman, and child in Iraq” before leveling the country so that not even a lizard survives. The consenting crowd gets wind of Baron Cohen’s dark use of irony when he turns America’s flag-waving patriotism on its head by singing that all countries other than Kazakhstan are run by “little girls.” The actual event received national news coverage after Baron Cohen had to be spirited out of the stadium under threat of lynching by a group of petulant rodeo hands.
Behind the veil of the film’s carefully guarded blueprint are director Larry Charles (“Masked and Anonymous”) and producer Jay Roach (director of “Meet The Fockers”). “Borat” has already stirred a whirlwind of controversy for cutting too close to the bone of issues and prejudices that some would rather not have shoved under their noses. The character of Borat represents an upwardly mobile peasant closely in touch with the intimate inner workings of culture. It’s an uninhibited curiosity, shared by Charlie Chaplin’s unforgettable characters, that inevitably locates precise nerves of social oppression and hammers away at them indefinitely. The people who refuse to accept the joke unwittingly conspire to conceal a secret that Baron Cohen already knows; ridicule is the most powerful weapon of the oppressed.
— Cole Smithey