Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock for the past month or so, you will have noticed practically every single reviewer in the world competing to make up the most overblown description of how funny this film is. And they’re right, it is hilarious. However, one of the drawbacks of being this particular reviewer is I that must analyse everything, including why people think things are funny. And as someone who is sickened by sexism, racism and homophobia, why do I laugh when it comes from the mouth of this particular man, Sacha Baron Cohen, in his guise of a reporter from Kazakhstan?
The Borat character has been appearing in five minute slots on Cohen’s TV shows for a few years now, confronting high and mighty Americans with his detestable opinions and naivety about western culture. Those segments were almost always memorable, as Borat drew embarrassing and astonishing statements from his targets. The humour came when the establishment figures showed that they actually agreed with their interviewer’s bigotry. Why was that funny? Maybe because they were removing their masks, letting us catch a glimpse of the hatred and insanity we knew was there all along. Perhaps we hoped that this would lead to their removal from power.
This film is almost the complete opposite of those improvised routines. To stretch the character over the length of 84 minutes, we are subjected to a forced, highly scripted ‘story’ about Borat travelling across America to find Pamela Anderson, who he fell for whilst watching Baywatch in a hotel room. Pamela seems to be in on the joke, as does the woman who plays a prostitute in a few scenes.
But there are still loads of great set-pieces, such as Borat telling a rodeo crowd that he supports America’s ‘war of terror’ (which they cheer) and sings Kazakh nationalist lyrics to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner (which they certainly don’t). He also makes friends with ‘Mr Jesus’, causes mayhem in a Confederate-supporting antiques shop, and tries to learn the rules of upper class etiquette.
After Me and You and Everyone We Know (which will never be beaten) this was my strangest cinema experience ever. Several times, the entire audience howled and shrieked with laughter, only to fall deadly silent or recoil in shock the very next second. Why? Because it’s funny when someone pretends to be outrageously offensive, but when a rodeo worker tells the camera he wants homosexuals to be executed you can only fear for the future.
This can’t be in any sense a true picture of America – that lies on the digital cutting room floor – and it certainly has nothing to do with Kazakhstan. But it is funny. I think.