The first Borat film came out just before I headed off to university, which meant my entire 3 years were full of bad impressions and catchphrases. I lived on a floor with about 50 people in total and there were a lot of idiot guys who thought the only indication of their sense of humour was being able to regurgitate film quotes. Oh, and let’s not forget one of flatmates who bought the character’s trademark mankini and wore it to every social event possible. I know it sounds like I hated the film but I didn’t. It was just fucking endless. It was everywhere. My undergraduate course was defined by Borat quotes and that Linkin Park and Jay-Z Numb/Encore mash-up. It was an interesting time.
Borat wasn’t the first time that Sacha Baron Cohen had put one of his television characters on the big screen. Ali G in da House had been released 4 years earlier and it hadn’t exactly gone as well as they would have wanted. It was a film that raised some titters but putting the character into a narrative didn’t have the same effect. What people wanted was to see the character go head-to-head with unsuspecting people and just let chaos ensue. The characters from the television show weren’t simply funny by their very nature but when they went up against real people. Seeing him interact with other fairly ridiculous characters just made the whole thing seem silly.
Thankfully, the lesson was learnt by the time Borat was given his chance on the big screen. Borat had become the break out success of Da Ali G Show and was one of the funniest things on the show. It was about time that he was let loose on the world. The film follows the same sort of format that Borat was given on the show but has set him off on a road trip across America. Along the way, he meets and interviews real people who believe that he is a foreign journalist making a documentary.
There’s always the potential with films like this, that it’ll all come across as a bit mean. After all, the joke is at somebody else’s expense. It’s easy to judge someone when you’re in on it all. Yet, in this situation, you can’t really feel bad for anyone. Borat is just an outrageous character that it’s hard to believe anyone would fall for it. That’s not to say that the characterisation isn’t amazing. Sacha Baron Cohen is an amazing performer and every detail just works together brilliantly. It’s all just a few nudges too far to be believable. Or so you’d have thought.
And I know there is some offensive stuff here. Borat is sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and racist. He says some truly horrendous things that would clearly have potential to upset people. Although, it’s not really about Borat’s beliefs. We’re meant to care about the response by the people he’s interviewing. The lack of challenge to his comments and the agreement. The actor is clever enough to not push the people he meets too far. He sets them up and stands back as they reveal themselves. This is a film that is not just incredibly funny but one that offered a very bleak picture of what America was like during the George W. Bush presidency.