Monday, November 06, 2006

Film Review--Borat!

I was a moderate fan of “Da Ali G Show” the few times I got to see it, and Sasha Coen’s Borat character was definitely his funniest bit, but I’m always a little skeptical about movies made from sketches (see basically every movie produced by Lorne Michaels on how poor these can be). Still, I went into the movie with fairly high hopes, based on clips I’d seen and what I already knew. My only issue was the thought that it couldn’t last on a feature-length scale, as funny as certain bits might be. I was more than satisfied with my investment.

Borat!: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is a Kazakh travelogue for air on the national TV station. We see the “finished product,” in a way. From this premise, the movie breaks into three distinct types of comedy: interviews in which Borat gets famous and ordinary people to say things some pretty damning things, an improvisational scheme where he does things to or, at least, in front of random people to get reactions, and a more standard character play that is mostly him in front of the camera.

Coen is definitely at his best when it is Borat by himself. While it may present the least to think about socially, he is outstandingly funny here. The character and his improvisational skills are both strong and he plays it to the hilt. It’s his one-liners and the situational gags that I’ll remember most. The other styles are really judged on how viewers feel about the formats. The stunts in front of people have limited life. I laughed a lot at many of the gags, but will they continue to be funny upon repeat viewing? Generally, I’m not the biggest fan of the style (unless I’m playing the jokes myself), but it helps that Coen so incredibly earnest and believable in this character, a trait that likely got him out of more than a few legal jams during the production. I was certainly laughing, but part of me kept thinking that some the stranger stuff was staged. The interviews, while funny and sometimes quite scary, remind me a little too much of Michael Moore. While the most politically revealing style in the film, it is also exceedingly manipulative and I'm not sure how much he really has to say. Borat! tries to have it all ways and, while often successful and very funny, is not very focused.

Without talking about the jokes themselves, the satire and physical comedy, which can get pretty disgusting sometimes, play off each other well and the mixture keeps it from feeling so heavy-handed. Maybe most important to the movies success is that, at 80 minutes, there isn’t time for it to become the boring, repetitive mess that I feared. I wish more movies, and especially comedies, would shorten to this length (as much as I loved 40 Year Old Virgin, why does it need to be 134 minutes) to keep other good ideas from become their own boring repetitive, messes.