Movie opinion: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

The commercials made it look funny, the trailer made it look funny, many reviews and critics said it was funny. Too bad it wasn’t funny.

I never cared for the Ali G character (and yes, I have seen the show), so I didn’t watch that movie. Borat reminded me of Jackass (the first one, I haven’t seen the second). I saw Jackass on DVD on one of those research cruises, where the DVD collection is very lacking for quality (obviously, as I also ended up watching Kangaroo Jack), because I certainly wouldn’t pay to see either Jackass film.

What do all three have in common? Most of the humor attempts to come from humiliating, offending, or pushing the decency limits of normal, everyday people who don’t deserve such treatment. Presenting people with the remnants of your bowel movements, whether in a hardware store or in a plastic bag to the hosts who were kind enough to invite you to dinner, is not the way to entertain an audience. If it is the MTV crowd who loves Jackass and Borat, I guess I’m not part of the MTV crowd (which is no real surprise). But when critics lists rave about a film, it should have something going for it.

Surely this film had something that wasn’t that bad? Of course, and that moment has to do with nude wrestling. You will realize this moment is one of the scripted parts, where the paid actors have designed the sketch and act it out among themselves, without involving innocent citizens. If you’re wondering about the elevator occupants or the hotel lobby, no man would get away with that these days without it making the news, and if it hit the news, no doubt it would have also made the entertainment pages, as it was for the filming of a movie. Hotel staff must have been notified beforehand, hence the empty lobby and the people in the elevator had to know in advance, as evidenced by their relaxed reactions in front of a blatant handheld camera. The Jackass moments where they abuse only each other are the only “acceptable” parts of that film/show.

I originally thought the introduction to the film, where Borat takes us on a tour of his village, was also entertaining, because it was also obviously fully scripted and had to have been agreed upon before filming. Lately, I hear that it was actually a real village of poorly paid peasants who feel they were taken advantage of for the film. This lowers my opinion of the film further still.

Then when Borat gets to America (and thus the relevance to this travel blog), he proceeds to find innocent people and put them into extremely uncomfortable situations. Rather then amusement, one feels sorry for these strangers. If the character of Borat is intending to show what real Americans are like, the real result is that this is what Sacha Baron Cohen thinks hard-working America wants to see, people like them being insulted or treated in some of the scariest ways possible.

By now, you should have heard of the lawsuit by University of South Carolina students about their portrayal of the film. Three frat guys play the “frat guy role” to the maximum of stereotypical cliches – drunken loudmouths who say the stupidest stuff, making you embarrassed to be: 1. family or friends; 2. fraternity brothers; 3. fellow USC students, staff, or faculty; or 4. an American citizen.

The last big sketch, dealing with his Pamela Anderson obsession, is also completely scripted, therefore losing any potency for humor. See four paragraphs back for the reasoning of how you can tell it was all an act.

Some people were able to keep their composure, probably because they knew a camera was filming. Some people said some things that you wouldn’t expect to hear, but were at least honest about themselves. Some people showed great restraint and politeness when faced with certain actions and words from Borat. I find it difficult to believe that the studio got signed waivers from everyone who appeared in the film in order for the footage to be used. I suspect that this did not happen, and that they were tricked into never suspecting it would be made into an internationally distributed film backed by a major studio.

I can’t recommend anyone see this film. It’s not the same as a The Daily Show sketch, where they also interview unsuspecting people for humor, because the TDS journalists do ask legitimate questions and show honest interest in the topic. The humor there comes from the weird answers or the follow up questions, some of which look to be shot well after the interview has concluded because the reporter appears to be alone in a room asking a question or making a comment to no one.

Borat wants only to make people squirm and lose control, much like paparazzi love to want celebrities to lose control and possibly resort to violence. His dedication to never breaking character is apparent, but he always takes it too far. That instantly turns a simple sketch into a completely humorless waste of time.

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