(from November 2006.)
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles/Sacha Baron Cohen, 2006)
It is somewhat astonishing to see the cultural saturation point Sacha Baron Cohen's greatest creation has reached at this point. The film that has arisen from the former Ali G character Borat Sagdiyev would have been perhaps a wonderful piece of cult art, a midnight movie in the vein of Wet Hot American Summer. Instead, it has been wildly praised at festivals, featured in (what seems to be) every major publication in the country, and lauded by all major American print film critics. I never would have guessed such an occurence when I was introduced to Borat by watching the first season of Da Ali G Show over two years ago. What's more, the disaster that was the Ali G movie, Indahouse, would never have indicated that Borat would have been made correctly; and it has been, for the most part.
At this point, in the immediate aftermath of the film's highly successful opening weekend, I am unsure that I can add anything to the already-flooded discourse on Borat without another viewing and some time to reflect on its words and images. Suffice it to say that the narrative which Cohen and his director Larry Charles attempt to frame Borat's many bizarre/terrifying interactions with people across the eastern and southern stretch of the United States is completely useless, but not to a fault. By extension, any elements attached to that narrative (especially the nude wrestling scene between Borat and his producer Azamat in their hotel room) feel cheap and unnecessary. Conversely, any moment not directly involved with Borat's "quest" for the hand of Pamela Anderson is the most loaded and hilarious piece of cinematic social criticism any of us is likely to see this year.
Perhaps I will attempt a more elaborate discussion at a later date, when Borat fever has cooled, and we can cast a more calm, less media-frenzy-induced eye on one of the members of the future of comedy in the English-speaking world (others including, but not limited to: Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan, Micael Ian Black/Michael Showalter/David Wain, Will Ferrel, Larry David).