Mr. Squab and I went to see Borat last weekend. I was a little nervous about the film, because although I think Sacha Baron Cohen is a comic genius, I’m not a fan of prank humor in general. Johnny Knoxville, Crank Yankers, Bam – I just don’t like ’em. To me, it’s not funny to prank someone just for the sake of pranking them. Even those stupid radio morning show prank calls – I just feel like, what’s the cleverness in that? Of course the person you’re calling believes you – they have no reason not to! It’s not funny to make fun of them for “falling” for the joke, it’s just mean. And after reading some people’s take on the movie, I was afraid that Borat would be that kind of humor.
However, after seeing the film I can happily tell you that it’s much smarter than that. It’s true that, in a sense, the whole movie is one big prank – Cohen isn’t Borat, after all, and he’s not really filming a documentary for Kazakhstan. But the conceit of the movie is less a vehicle for mindless making-fun than it is for allowing people to reveal their true selves. A lot of them come off as real assholes, but it’s clear that Cohen/Borat isn’t making them say that stuff; it’s just that his foreign-ness and apparent lack of importance lets them take their guard down long enough to display what they really think, and often that’s pretty shocking and embarrassing stuff. The guy at the Rodeo who tells Borat to shave his mustache so people don’t mistake him for a muslim/terrorist? That guy deserves all he gets! And the couple who runs the antique store where Borat “accidentally” trips and breaks a ton of stuff? Well, they also proudly display a ton of secessionist, southern pride, confederate flag crap, so I don’t feel too sorry for them, either. And don’t even get me started on the drunken fratboy jerkoffs. In contrast, the people who come off the best in the movie are the group of young black men in a scary Atlanta neighborhood who give Borat directions, and the prostitute Borat hires to accompany him to a dinner party. They’re genuine, and they don’t presume to be better than Borat, and you end up liking them a whole hell of a lot more than the more educated, priveleged “upright” citizens Borat encounters.
So, yeah. I liked the movie. It had some narrative issues, and the naked wrestling scene was purely gratuitous (and may give me nightmares for the foreseeable future), but mostly I thought it was extremely clever social commentary. Also real, real funny. I’d love to hear what other people thought of it – anyone else seen it?