After being hyped for months on the Internet, “Borat” opened at the top of the box office charts the weekend of Nov. 3 with $26.5 million. As of this writing, it has raked in $90.5 million at the United States box office. Pretty remarkable for a fake documentary. Audiences who haven’t already seen it are likely wondering: is it really that funny?
In short – yes. But be warned. The movie is not for everyone, but if you’re in a daring mood and unafraid of being offended, it may be the funniest movie you’ll see this year.
In case you hadn’t heard, “Borat,” which is subtitled “Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” is the story of a clueless Kazakh reporter who travels around America to make a documentary. Borat is one of several characters that the English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen created for the HBO series “Da Ali G Show,” which got most of its laughs from interviewing real people who didn’t know they were on a comedy show.
Borat is a lovable, if sexist and anti-Semitic hero. His manner is so disarming and seemingly harmless that he is able to get many of his interview subjects to say things that they would probably never say under ordinary circumstances, and certainly not if they knew what the movie was going to be playing all across America.
In one of the movie’s many memorable sequences, Borat climbs into an RV to hitch a ride with a group of drunken fraternity members. They turn out to be every bit as sexist as he is and admit to him that they think perhaps slavery wasn’t such a bad idea after all, especially if those slaves are women.
That’s the brilliance of Baron Cohen’s brand of comedy. By portraying such an outlandish character, he is able to show us the nastiness of people we meet every day. Those fraternity brothers are now suing, claiming they were duped into behaving badly. If you ask me, they probably got what they deserved.
Amidst all the improvised craziness and interviews of real people becoming more confused by the minute, the movie actually manages to have a plot. Borat and his producer, Azamat (Ken Davitian), arrive in New York, where they plan on doing their entire documentary about America. When Borat catches an episode of “Baywatch,” he comes up with a plan to travel to California and marry Pamela Anderson. He keeps Azamat in the dark for a long time, insisting that they must keep traveling to find the true America.
While the plot is passable and works for what it is, it certainly isn’t the reason to the movie. You watch the movie because you can’t look away. It’s the kind of comedy that makes you laugh until your sides hurt, but it makes you feel uncomfortable at the same time. When the people Borat interviews are not complete jerks, you actually feel sorry for them. When you don’t feel sorry for the interview subjects, you fear for Cohen’s safety. Somehow, he manages to escape America without any serious injuries (that we know of), but not before getting arrested a few times.
Again, this is not a movie to take the kids to. But if you have an absurdist, take-no-prisoners sense of humor, you couldn’t do much better.
“Borat” is rated R. No one under 17 admitted unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian.