Tuesday, November 14, 2006
In these times of political correctness, Borat is a film that is proudly offensive and hysterically funny. It is the brainchild of British comedian/actor Sasha Baron Cohen. Cohen became popular through his TV series Da Ali G Show. His character Borat is a journalist from Kazakhstan reporting the news in his own unique way. You would think that it would be difficult to take a character normally taken in small doses and turn it into a feature film. But Cohen, Da Ali G Show co-writer Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham and Todd Phillips (Old School) came up with a great concept. Phillips was supposed to direct but left and Da Ali G Show producer Dan Mazer was brought in to help with the screenplay. TV vet Larry Charles (Seinfeld) directed and Jay Roach (Austin Powers) served as producer.
The whole idea behind Borat is to make an absurd character believable. That's why the film was made to look like a Kazakhstan production. Journalist Borat Sagdiyev goes to America to find out what Americans are like with producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian) in tow. Keep in mind these are the only actors in the film. Things are going OK in New York City when Borat sees Pamela Anderson on TV in Baywatch and becomes obsessed with her. So he tells Azamat that he wants to go to Los Angeles but he doesn't tell him why. The vehicle of choice for this road trip turns out to be a broken down ice cream truck. They also acquire a pet grizzly bear. Doesn't everyone have one of those?
The people Borat encounters on this road trip have no idea he's an actor. So they take him at face value. And a lot of his outrageous behaviour is simply chalked up to cultural differences. But eventually Borat's behaviour gets more outrageous. First he gets booed for singing the supposed Kazakhstan national anthem to the tune of The Star Spangled Banner at a rodeo in Texas. And when a knock down drag out nude fight with Azamat disrupts a convention in a Houston hotel, they get thrown out of the place and they split up. Somehow Borat does make it to Hollywood. He does reunite with Azamat and meets Pamela Anderson but he goes a little overboard. And Pamela Anderson was in on the gag. Borat does live happily ever after with new black wife Luenell. She's an actress, sort of. She's basically playing herself.
Now that Borat is a success, a lot of the people he fooled are coming out of the woodwork complaining about Cohen's methods. A couple of boneheads are even suing. Borat is guerilla theater at its best. It wouldn't have worked if everyone was in on the gag. Everyone's reaction to this foreigner is what makes this funny. Some are revealed at their best and some are revealed at their worst. According to Larry Charles, Sasha Baron Cohen rarely does interviews out of character to protect his characters. So who is he? According to Jay Roach, he's an Orthodox Jew who keeps kosher and doesn't answer the phone on the Sabbath. A lot of the supposed Russian spoken in the film is actually Hebrew. So maybe there's an underlying serious theme in Borat. I don't know but it sure was funny. Cohen's next film will feature his Austrian fashion maven Bruno. And he will continue to act in regular Hollywood films. He just signed on for Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd. He sure hit a home run with Borat.