Monday, August 13, 2007

2006 in Review: #10


That Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and jackass: number two are two of the most convulsively funny movies of 2006 is reason enough to group them together. But if we look at them more closely, they have more in common than simply laughs. Both of these movies represent an increasing trend in Hollywood comedy, a move away from the setup-and-payoff plots of their predecessors to a more episodic format. In addition, the sketches more often than not feel like stunts rather than gags, attempts to push the envelope of taste as great comedies have always done. They may not be possessed of the Lubitsch touch, but damn these movies are funny- two of the best theatrical experiences I had in 2006.

jackass: number two takes the format practically to its limit, with stunts like the one pictured above, and many more that are so elaborate and startling that to describe them would ruin the surprise. Yet with all the gross-outs, one of the most powerful vibes given off by the Jackass team is a kind of close-knit, practically homoerotic bonhomie. One feels that they engage in on-camera oneupmanship as a way of connecting to each other, with the perpetrators proving how clever they are at thinking up gags, and the participants impressing their peers with their toughness.

Borat also feels like a stunt, but one of a different variety. Whereas the jackass boys mostly play jokes on each other, Borat holds a funhouse mirror up to our patronizing tendency to humor those we believe to be more simpleminded than we are. Turns out the joke's on us, as Borat invariably turns our attempts to keep cool in the face of awkward situations against us. Many critics went overboard to justify Borat's pranks as sharp satirical barbs at American cultural institutions, but more often than none this came off as a desperate way to fill space after writing "holy crap is this funny." Most of all, Borat is a tribute to the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen, whose comedy is all the more impressive for transpiring in the real-world, opposite unsuspecting co-stars. He's like Peter Sellers crossed with Andy Kaufman, and I can't wait to see what he does next.

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