Borat funny and enlightening … … … … … … NOT!

I finally saw Borat last night, and I’m afraid I was unimpressed. There were a few funny moments, there were a few horrifying moments where he raised a mirror to our culture to make us squirm (the cheerfully eliminationist cowboy at the rodeo, for instance, or those appallingly stupid frat boys), but mostly it was incoherent, weird, and rude for rude’s sake. There was a scene with two naked men wrestling in a hotel that was nothing but vulgar slapstick, and while I’ve got nothing against a little slapstick now and then, it just didn’t advance the film anywhere.

I think Sacha Baron Cohen is capable of flashes of brilliant satire, but he lacks the chops to assemble them into a coherent movie.


  1. mndarwinist says

    Professor Myers, I would have to disagree with you. I saw it ahwile back, and even now I chuckle every now and then at remembering what it was like. To me the funniest part was his filming of a supposedly backward village in Kazakhstan(actually done in Romania).

  2. says

    Aw, come on. We laughed so hard I thought we were both going to burst a gut. For me the Romania shots were anachronistic but that revivalist church scene was priceless. (Unfortunately, the three frat boys in the trailor weren’t shocking to me at all since those are the kind of attitudes I grew up around.)

  3. says

    Oh, I agree that there were horrifying and hilarious moments in the movie. My point is that they were just sort of strung together with moments of cobbled-together filler — it didn’t hang together in a way that would build up a strong movie. These would have been great episodes in the Ali G show.

  4. says

    The problem is that Cohen is just a one-joke performer, whether he playing Borat, Ali G, or other characters — and the joke gets old, fast — there is only so much chuckling that one can do at the expense of a fooled interviewee after all.

  5. Marcia says

    I have to respectfully disagree.

    I found the movie (and, especially the 12 shows he made for HBO), very funny. Ali G interviewing Pat Buchanan about the BLTs in Iraq….and Buchanan answers him. Hilarious.)

    The wrestling scene shows us how far Cohen will go for a laugh. He dislikes homosexuals (yet, if you notice, he’s somewhat effeminate) because his culture says he should (“in our country the homosexuals wear blue hats”) and then he ends up in a prolonged nude wrestling match with a man. And, that position in bed? My side hurt. Brilliantly, he takes the hypocrisy to a visual level. I had never heard so much laughter in a theater.

    Even the best of us carry stereotypes around in our heads. That is what Cohen uncovers and why his humor is so funny and disquieting. The genius can be found in the way that his characters portray the persona of the perpetrators. His comedy of exaggeration and farce is dead on.

    A compilation of deleted scenes on Youtube. (Scroll to bottom of page and click deleted scenes):

  6. says

    I laughed convulsively through almost the whole thing: the #4 prostitute in all Khazakhstan, the bear in the ice cream truck, the stupid frat boys, the supposed Khazkhstani national anthem, and the bucking bronco machine. On the other hand, I cringed at the antique shop scene (obvious and unfunny), the revelatory pics of his “favorite” son (omigawd), and the infinitely prolonged naked flight and fight scene (please, please, please, stop it now!). I admit, however, that even during the cringing parts (except the antique shop), I couldn’t really stop laughing. Nearly hurt myself.

    Later, though, the bigots at the rodeo and the creepy frat boys stick in the mind and you worry.

  7. Jim in STL says

    I thought that the disjointed and awkward aspect of the movie was clearly within its premise and actually helped sell it – who would expect a polished effort from the Kazakhstan “journalist” that he invents. The title sets the tone.

    And really, who hasn’t fantasized about chasing Pam Ella across the parking lot in search of hot sexy time. Uh, I didn’t say this out loud did I?

  8. says

    I haven’t seen it yet, because that kind of more-or-less free-form ambush comedy has never really appealed to me (I don’t like the Candid Camera/Punk’d type of show, either).

    I’m also very lazy, so I find my couch far more appealing than a movie theater seat.

  9. bernarda says

    Cohen is a religious nut case himself and as such a total hypocrite. Go ahead, make fun of xians and muslims. What about orthodox jews like Cohen?

    “Sacha was a member of, and in 1989 first acted (in Neil Simon’s play Biloxi Blues) with,[1] the Jewish Zionist youth movement group “Habonim Dror.”[2]

    He spent a year in Israel at Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra as part of the Habonim Dror Shnat program before going to university.[3]

    Baron Cohen is an observant Jew. He keeps kosher, and generally observes the Jewish Sabbath, refusing to answer the phone on shabbat.[4][5][6]

    As a supreme jest, understood by few, while playing Jew-bashing Borat he frequently speaks in Hebrew. He also sings the lyrics from an old Hebrew folk song, and identifies his country’s greatest scientist, who discovered that a woman’s brain is the same size as that of a squirrel, as “Dr. Yarmulke.””

    Cohen is a racist fraud.

  10. says

    How does being an observant Jew and belonging to a youth group make him a racist fraud? If he is racist fraud then what does that make Sara Silverman?

  11. marcel says

    I agree with PZ, but I’ve noticed that we have kids about the same age (i.e., in college), so I suspect that I was right in thinking, before my wife dragged me to Borat, that like most movies, this one is for those under 25 or 30. PZ and I are a pair of wannabe alte kakers, slouching towards the genuine, curmudgeonly, article.

  12. bmurray says

    I think historiucally it will be fascinating for thousands of scholars that this film made money.

  13. says

    I took a visiting friend of mine from Indonesia to see Borat last month. We both laughed a lot and I found the film to be hysterically funny, though there were a few cringe inducing moments. It is not the kind of movie I would be likely to watch multiple times though.

  14. kurage says

    I found “Borat” to be solidly entertaining, even if it didn’t live up to the wide-eyed, worshipful hype. Ultimately, it is such a relentlessly discomfiting film that I think it keeps many viewers at a certain distance. The moments of social significance – the glimpses of supposedly sane and functioning American citizens as seen through the dark glass of Sasha Baron Cohen – almost invariably left me with a bad taste in my mouth. That they were meant to do so didn’t make the experience any more pleasant.

    Wince-inducing content aside, I think a lot of the film’s uneveness stemmed from the superimposition of a Hollywood-style story on what was essentially a series of comedic hit-and-runs. We, the audience, are almost certainly aware that the “Borat” persona is a sham and the bulk of the movie is about real people really embarrassing themselves, but the movie itself never explicitly clarifies this. Instead, the nonexistent Borat is given a backstory and a quest and other narrative accoutrements. No clear distinction is made between what is scripted and what is not. Sasha Baron Cohen tells us, just like he tells the other people he dupes, to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain – and we can’t help but feel a little slighted that he’s not letting us in on the joke.

  15. Paco says

    I haven’t gone to see the movie… the trailers made me laugh a little, but far more they made me cringe that the joke is really on American ignorance about the world.

  16. says

    Some of the skits were pretty funny, but I do agree that they were akwardly tied together. It was challenging trying to figure out which scenes had interviewees that were fooled, and which were set up. A couple of things still have me laughing, but I don’t think I’d see the movie again… not very re-watchable.

  17. says

    I thought the movie was pretty hilarious except for some parts. I was not amused with the frat boys, the rodeo audience and the evangelists. I thought that if there are truly people like that in America, then I am really happy that I don’t have to deal with them in real life. I thought that I had seen everything, living in NY, but no. I’ve been sheltered. I’ll admit it.

  18. tballou says

    Cohen has very occassional bursts of true humor, but most of his work is either very mean spirited or just banal. He is at his best (in any of his guises) when his “subjects / victims” know what is going on. Otherwise, it just comes across as predatory.

    Cases in point: Ali G.’s inteview with David and Victoria Beckham was hilarious, and all involved were in on the various jokes. His interviews with abortion protesters was grotesque and sick. Borat is just more of the same; everyone involved is a victim at some level, and given no real opportunity to fight back so to speak. He exploits one of Americas many virtues – tolerance of outsiders, and turns it on his subjects.

    Cohen’s humor works best (and only) when there is some give and take, and when he allows that he can be hilarious. Otherwise, he is predatory and obnoxious.

  19. April says

    I’m with PZ on this one. There were some really good moments, but so much of the film was just filler and pandering to the “edgy” college audience (and let me tell you, as a college student, he pandered to the right people. The movie is huge among young, left-leaners in the Twin Cities area).

    There were some moments that will hopefully make people think, but the rest was off the mark.

  20. BrunoFan says

    I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but I agree with PZ that there is something missing in terms of putting together an actual story.

    I think the problem is that Cohen’s humour just doesn’t translate well to scripted situations… the funniest parts of the movie were the unscripted ones, ala Da Ali G Show, where real people become the source of the comedy. It’s the response to Borat that’s so hilarious, not Borat himself.

  21. Forrest says

    I haven’t seen Borat, but I’m reminded of my thoughts about Saturday Night Live – and I mean in the days when it was allegedly funny – the mid 70’s. At that time I watched a number of episodes and concluded that it would be a very funny program if it was on for half an hour once a month. They clearly had some very funny material, but just not nearly enough to fill an hour (or maybe it was more – I probably fell asleep by the time it was over) every week.

  22. says

    Cohen is a racist fraud.

    Oh please, give it a rest. Jon Stewart and Lewis Black are also Jews, so is our good friend Mike (the Mad Biologist). Many Jews who observe religious traditions do it for purposes of cultural solidarity. I have two cousins in my own extended family who are self-described agnostics but still attend Mass for the same reason (my father and his brother ditched the church after my grandfather on their side died, so I never had to make that decision). Please don’t lob baseless inflammatory accusations.

  23. mndean says

    If this movie panders to college students (and everything I’ve seen, trailers and articles, makes me certain), then I see no need to watch it. Although I can stand going through another 2 hour banal-a-thon, when you’re my age, chances are you’ve seen it all done before, and better. Satires of American stupidity have been done for what seems like 100 years now, and it’s really nothing new.

  24. pbg says

    I am surprised that several people have felt that Borat’s interviewees were victims. One commentor above said “everyone involved is a victim at some level, and given no real opportunity to fight back so to speak”. But they were given an opportunity to express themselves. The feminists and the driving instructor in the movie used that opportunity in an intelligent and articulate manner and came off as such. Others used that opportunity to express their misogyny, racism, and homophobia. I see no reason to feel sorry that they were tricked into revealing their true selves.

  25. jc. says

    Is the ultimate proof that “Cohen is a racist fraud” that he is…. a practicing jew?
    uhhh, what?
    Did I miss something in the logic/evidence chain?
    Please explain.
    I am one very puzzled athiest.

  26. bernarda says

    It is amusing to see “atheists” like jc defend a person who believes in religious superstition.

    As with Tyler Dipietro, he seems to miss the point. Jon Stewart and Lew Black ALSO make fun of jews along with everyone else. Racist believer Cohen ONLY makes fun of xians and muslims.

  27. kurage says

    >>>”It is amusing to see “atheists” like jc defend a person who believes in religious superstition.”

    Atheists don’t have to be evangelists. Personally, I feel that as long as people keep their religious superstitions out of my government and off of my doorstep, they’re welcome to believe whatever the heck they want. Similarly, I acknowledge that even people who are _not_ atheists can be otherwise worthwhile human beings deserving of defense.

    “As with Tyler Dipietro, he seems to miss the point. Jon Stewart and Lew Black ALSO make fun of jews along with everyone else. Racist believer Cohen ONLY makes fun of xians and muslims.”

    I’m not sure this is entirely true. Did you see the “Running of the Jew” sequence? Hear the “Throw the Jew Down the Well” song? And what about the Jewish couple in the movie who ran the bed and breakfast? Cohen gave them equal opportunity to make asses of themselves. It’s just that, unlike so many other people in the movie, they didn’t take it.

  28. Yocco says

    Sorry PZ love you but you don’t sound good here. Your critigue sounds like a sour Roger Ebert complaining that Team America world police didn’t make the political statement he supports. Not all entertainment is meant to have long lasting appeal or artistic value. Every few years a movie comes out and for the few weeks of its run people laugh more than they do in years. That in itself is worthy of praise and Borat is one of those special films that lives in the moment and makes tons of people laugh and that is enough. If someone doesn’t set out to make Taxi Driver don’t criticize them for not making taxi driver.

  29. says

    Let me tell my impression as a citizen of Uzbekistan (which we all are except you Americans). We all are in love with Pamela and we dream of visiting her in Baywatchland. We want to chase her on the parking lot. Americans come through as an exceptionally friendly, open, decent and accepting people. No one ever says a hard word to Borat (even if he deserves it and much more), there is no violence but much good will. The frat boys are good, clean, decent, well-meaning fat Americans, they are are completely drunk but there is no hint of violence. The black street gang is very friendly to the white stranger and they are likeable. Azamat is a comic genius of the caliber of John Belushi. All in all, Americans come through the Borat experience as friendly, good willed, decent people, even if a bit slow in catching the joke.

  30. bernarda says

    Thank you kurage for confirming what I said, “I’m not sure this is entirely true. Did you see the “Running of the Jew” sequence? Hear the “Throw the Jew Down the Well” song? And what about the Jewish couple in the movie who ran the bed and breakfast? Cohen gave them equal opportunity to make asses of themselves. It’s just that, unlike so many other people in the movie, they didn’t take it.”

    Just who do you think was responsible for editing the film? Editing means selecting what one wants to show, in this case like Bill O’Reilly.

    Jon Stewart and Lew Black are much more fair–or dare I say, fair and balanced.