You can often learn a lot from one line in the end credits of a movie and Borat: Cultural Learnings for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is no exception. Any movie with a credit that reads “Mr. Baron Cohen’s feces provided by Jason Alpert” had better be either a very funny comedy, or something I would not venture into the theatre to see. Fortunately, it is the former, and Borat is an exceptional entry into the comedy genre known as the mockumentary. At least that is as close as I can come to classifying it. If Borat were a real person, I would suspect that his home village of Cussick was too close to the Semipalatinsk Test Site (where the Soviet Union tested its nuclear weapons until closing the site in 1991), which is actually located in Kazakhstan. It might also explain some of the villagers we see in early scenes.
Sacha Baron Cohen jointly penned the screenplay with Anthony Hines (although there are actually four names credited with the screenplay and four names with the story), jointly produced the film with Jay Roach (director of the Austin Powers trilogy) and he stars as “Borat” Sagdiyev, a resident of a small village in Kazakhstan who works as a reporter for government television and is sent to the United States to make a documentary. Once there, he comes across a Baywatch calendar and becomes obsessed with meeting and marrying Pamela Anderson.
Baron Cohen’s film is funny on multiple layers, some of which the bulk of its audience won’t appreciate but that doesn’t matter. The base level comedy is funny enough. But there are additional layers of ironic humor to be found that make the humorous remarks even funnier. On the other hand, some of it really pushes the limits. One wonders how someone who’s cousin is a famed professor of psychopathology in the psychiatry and psychology departments at the University of Cambridge, would make numerous jokes in a film about “retards”. Then again, since there are many anti-Semitic jokes in this film and Baron Cohen is a devoutly religious Jew himself, I guess there are no limits for him.
If you watch the film and you think you’re hearing either Baron Cohen, or his co-star Ken Davitian, who plays the producer/director/cameraman of Borat’s documentary, speaking Kazakhstani, you aren’t. Baron Cohen speaks Polish and Hebrew, with a smattering of Yiddish at various times during the film, while Bavitian speaks fluent Armenian. Oh, and if that Russian folk music sounds a bit familiar, think about those days when you played the video game Tetris and it will all come back to you.
Borat’s adventures as he crosses America, at a Gay Pride parade, at a dinner party, at a meeting with some feminists, are all funny. Were they all unscripted, encounters with people with Baron Cohen in character? I don’t know and I don’t really care. I only know it all works out to be funny. There is even a moral to this story that comes out at the end, although it is hinted at early on. A funny mockumentary that has a moral to wrap up the story is pretty close to a complete work and Borat fits that description to a T. Or should that be a mustachioed B?.
Just remember two things before you go into the theater to see Borat. One is that you are going to laugh, a lot. Two is that before you take a drink of soda or start to put some popcorn in your mouth, make sure the action on the screen is at a stage where you aren’t about to be made to laugh loudly enough to spit up on the person in front of you. Then again, they will probably be laughing too hard to notice.