Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Borat! (2006, Larry Charles)

For once, the hype is warranted. This movie is really goddamn funny in my opinion. Is there any depth to it otherwise? I'm not sure. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the social relevance ascribed to BORAT by some of its most vehement supporters ("a scathing exposé of American hypocrisy!" et al) may be desperation from critics wishing to justify their glowing reviews of a movie that's this hilariously offensive. Given the way the film was made (turning Sacha Baron Cohen-as-Borat loose in real-life situation and seeing what transpires), the filmmakers doubtless cut out the people who didn't respond as they'd hoped and judiciously edited the subjects they kept for maximum effect. In a way, the film's guerrilla style owes as much to documentarians like Michael Moore, who place themselves center stage in their films and semi-ambush those they encounter, as it does to modern-day performance art comedy video like JACKASS and PUNK'D. But what places BORAT head and shoulders above any of these inspirations is Baron Cohen himself, who between this film and TALLADEGA NIGHTS has proven to be almost certainly the most prodigiously talented of the current crop of big-screen comics. He's the comedic equivalent of the Christian Bale character in THE PRESTIGE- an elusive figure who seemingly devotes all his energy and thought to making us laugh, and who will go to any lengths to do so. His commitment to the Borat character is astonishing, which helps the film immeasurably- if there were any sign of Baron Cohen breaking character, winking at the camera, etc., the whole thing would collapse. Even in strange sequences like a visit to a prayer revival or an already-legendary fight scene that manages to out-do Ken Russell, he's never less than 100% Borat onscreen. His chameleonlike skill and completely original comic style recall the late Peter Sellers, and if Baron Cohen ever manages to find his own Kubrick (an equally eccentric visionary who managed to recontextualize Sellers' genius), watch the hell out. Also, I watched BORAT with a packed house on opening weekend, which was the perfect way to experience it (I'm not sure I've ever heard so much laughter in a movie theatre). I'd love to see it this way again, and I believe I actually may have a chance to, since BORAT is shaping up to be a real phenomenon, and it no doubt won't be going anywhere for a while. Maybe I'll catch some of the jokes I missed the first time due to laughter... Rating: ***1/2.

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