Monday, November 06, 2006

Jagshemash!

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As Billy Wilder and Fritz Lang proved in the past, it often takes the unique perspective of an outsider to show Americans some of the ugly truths about the land we live in. What makes Borat!: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan so brutally funny is that British comic Sacha Baron Cohen's Kazakh TV reporter alter-ego Borat Sagdiyev is an outsider pretending to be even more of an outsider. Sporting a hideous grey suit and an even more hideous moustache, Borat hails from a poor village in a highly fictionalized version of Kazahkstan, in which "women can now ride on the bus, and homosexuals no longer have to wear blue hats." His government sends him, along with his portly manager Azamat, to a very real version of America, in search of "cultural learnings." It is in America that Borat stumbles upon an episode of Baywatch on his hotel room TV, and embarks on a cross-country journey to make Pamela Anderson his bride.

The setup is basically an excuse for Cohen to interview a diverse range of Americans while in character as Borat, with gut-bustingly funny results. The character is so dim-witted, so misogynistic and anti-Semetic, so misinformed and yet so earnest and enthusiastic, that no-one ever really knows quite what to make of him. His "vast cultural differences" cause his victims to put up with him a lot longer than you'd expect, and he causes confusion and bewilderment wherever he goes. Some encounters, such as Borat's entrance to an Atlanta hotel after taking fashion and speech tips from a crew of young black men, play like the greatest episode of Candid Camera you ever saw. Others, including interviews with an elderly rodeo cowboy and Southern gun shop owner, will freeze your blood. Cohen's ability to get creepy red-staters to reveal their true colors is comparable to Bowling For Columbine, and his perceverence in the face of real danger rivals that of the Jackass crew.

It would be a shame to repeat any of the jokes here, but let me say this: I saw this the weekend it opened at the Chelsea West, and I don't think I've ever heard a fully packed audience laughing this hard before. As is true with all great comedies, it warrants being seen on the big screen with the audience reactions going on around you. Granted, this is New York, and it might not play so well in more conservative areas of the South. But if you're fond of South Park's style of humor that mixes scalotogy and precicely-aimed low blows with biting social satire, Borat will prove a mind-blowing, gut-busting, and gloriously un-PC work of comedic genius. You watch, now. Is nice!