Friday, March 16

Borat, or Who Cares?

Finally saw Borat. I settled in expecting to be embarrassed. And to laugh my ass off.

Embarrassing? Let's see. Americans hold jingoistic political views? Shocking! Homophobes? Misogynists? Xenophobes in denial? You don't say? Not "embarrassing" but a case of, "So what else is new?"

I was impelled to see this movie because of reviews that had critics squirming in a puddle of collusion. This guy is hilarious, they said, about things that shouldn't be hilarious - the black kids in Atlanta talk and dress, uh, "urban." D'uh! But when Borat gets them to coach him how to do it, it gets him thrown out of a hotel lobby. Before he registers. So....that means....we like our "urban" out there, arms length, on TV, and black. Yes. Outrageous! So...that means...uh, black people...they have a culture...that nice hotels don't like to see. Wow! Let me just deal with that for a moment. Relax, all you professors and journalists. American cultural criticism hasn't been co-opted by this fictional Kazakh.

So what the heck did the people that drove it to $250M in grosses love? Idiot id. It's a fart in church, which come to think of it is a missed opportunity, given the straight way they played the Pentecostal segment. It expresses the repressed, with a story line. I don't mean we're all anti-semites or think the other guy is. I mean that it's hard not to tiptoe through a garden of individual sensitivities in this late century. And Borat has big feet.

What Borat spends most of his time on is the flip side of network television. He shows us we're different. Americans aren't similar, admirable, don't exemplify the land of the free and home of the brave. We're fragmented, fractured, and intolerant. We're siloed with people like ourselves and pity or condescend to Borat and others who aren't like us. We're none of the things we say we are. Maybe the only thing we share is the pursuit of happiness. And get the hell out of my way.

Here are some clever features of the movie:
  • The search for Pamela Anderson. Very American and aimed right at the audience demographic. They made perfect use of the famous Tommy Lee video to dash Borat's romantic dream.
  • The prostitute with a heart of gold, to whom he returns in a trope on the Hollywood movie chestnut we know too well, that love is staring you in face but your blind and twisted heart can't see it.
  • The underplayed sight gag of the bear's head on a plate in Azamat's refrigerator.
  • The reunion of Borat and Azamat, now incognito as Charlie Chaplin, on Hollywood Boulevard.
  • Crazy risks for small-scale entertainment: the national anthem, the naked ballroom wrestling, the dinner down south, bagging Pamela Anderson. This is the kind of stuff that gets people beat up by private security, or bruised and booked by local police. For all of you who laughed 'til you peed, he earned it. From the rest of us, I say, "Jesus, but a desperate man will do anything to get a break."
When Borat ended, I flipped to Comedy Central and caught the Colbert Report. And for the first time that evening, I laughed out loud.