Why? Maybe Borat is such a hit because despite its frequent dips into scatological grotesqueries, it’s actually quite an innocuous little monster. Baron Cohen had a great opportunity to make something as challenging as it is entertaining; to expose the bigotry, jingoism and plain stupidity that is such an integral part of the American cultural landscape. Instead, he chooses to wallow in schoolboy humour and his own latent narcissism.
Take, for example, the scene in which he interviews the owner of an antique shop specialising in Confederate memorabilia. Does he take advantage of this politically charged situation? Does he even mention slavery, secession or the Civil War? Of course not. Instead, he chooses to act clumsy and “accidentally” breaks a few of the valuables. Here, Baron Cohen is like a sad, older version of Punk’d, only more childish.
Similarly, he either ignores or avoids great opportunities while talking to a homophobic cowboy, misogynistic fraternity boys and insane born-again Pentecostals who think that shaking spastically while burbling gibberish is proof that the planet is 6,000 years old.
In other scenes, he’s just plain cruel. What is the point of victimising an elderly couple running a bed & breakfast? Or disrupting a socialite’s dinner party? This candid camera-style cruelty is anti-comedy, usually performed by the cynical and talentless for the stupid and humourless. Having a sense of humour means being able to laugh at yourself, not at the misfortunes of others.
Perhaps Borat is such a success because it fails to do what it pretends to be doing, but still manages to dupe the audience into thinking they’re watching something edgy and controversial. Baron Cohen is either unwilling or unable to produce meaningful, socially relevant comedy, despite his brilliant inventions. Both Borat and Ali G are masterful conceits which only rarely and fleetingly reach their full potential. It’s a terrible waste.
Yes, there are a few laughs to be had – but only a few. Baron Cohen’s characters were made for TV, and in Borat, it certainly shows. As a result, the film feels a lot longer than just 84 minutes. But the bad taste will linger for far longer.
- Chris McEvoy
A vacuous, nihilistic film, wallowing in scatology and cruel practical jokes. No wonder America loves it.
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