Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Released:  2006

Cast:  Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell, Pamela Anderson

Oscar Nominations:  Best Adapted Screenplay (Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer, Todd Phillips)

SUMMARY:  Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a Kazakh reporter who has been chosen by the Ministry of Information to travel to the United States to learn about its culture.  He is tasked with making a documentary about his experiences in order to show the rest of Kazakhstan what America is like.  Borat leaves his wife, Oxana, at home, but takes his producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian) and a pet hen with him.  Borat and Azamat travel to New York City, where they intend to film the entire documentary.  However, Borat quickly discovers the show Baywatch on TV and falls in love with the C.J. Parker character.  While doing a (filmed) interview with a group of feminists, Borat learns that the character is played by Pamela Anderson, and that she lives in California.  However, he can do nothing about this, as his wife has threatened violence if he cheats on her.  Just then, Borat receives a telegram stating that Oxana has been killed by a bear.  Borat decides to marry Pamela, and convinces Azamat that they need to travel to California in order to make the best possible documentary.  Borat wants to fly to California, but Azamat, who is virulently (and ignorantly) anti-Semitic (as is Borat), is afraid that the Jews will attack the plane, as they did on September 11, 2001.  They therefore decide to drive cross-country, so Borat takes driving lessons and then buys an old ice-cream-style truck.  On the way the men make periodic stops and do interviews for their documentary.  At one of their stops, a yard sale, Borat finds a Baywatch promotional book, which he reads constantly.  He also comes across (and participates in) a gay pride parade (though he does not realize what it is) and interviews several politicians; he also does an interview on a morning show.  In Texas, he is asked to sing the National Anthem at a rodeo, but instead sings the Kazakh National Anthem (a fictional version) to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.  For this he is booed out of the arena; after being rejected from a hotel he and Azamat find a room at a bed-and-breakfast.  Initially they find their hosts very friendly, but soon realize that their hosts are Jewish, and panic.  When they see two beetles that night, the men believe that these are their transformed hosts; they throw money at them, then flee the house.

The men decide that they need protection, so Borat tries to buy a gun; however, since he is not an American citizen it is illegal for him to buy one.  Instead, he visits an exotic animal breeder and buys a bear.  Azamat has scheduled Borat to meet with an etiquette coach who preps him for a dinner party.  Although Borat is still ignorant of many customs, his dinner guests find him charming (if unusual) — until he brings a prostitute, Luenell (Luenell) into the house.  Both Borat and Luenell are abruptly shown to the door, but stick together for the rest of the evening.  Luenell is won over by Borat’s kindness through their time together, particularly when he tells her that he can’t sleep with her because he is in love with someone else.  When he leaves, she tells him to look her up if he is ever in town again.  Later, Borat goes to a shop with a variety of antique Confederate artifacts — many of which he breaks.  Borat returns to the hotel one evening to discover Azamat with his Baywatch book, and then lets slip that Pamela Anderson is the real reason they are going to California.  Both men are angry at the other, and the situation becomes violent.  Though both men are stark naked, they start fighting, and the melee soon bursts out of their room and travels through various parts of the hotel.  Azamat is still angry at Borat’s lie, so he takes the money, passports, and bear and leaves.  Borat still has the truck but is forced to hitchhike when it runs out of gas.  Eventually he is picked up by some frat brothers from the University of South Carolina, who enlighten him to the fact that Pamela Anderson is not the virgin Borat believed her to be.  Borat is so heartbroken that he burns the Baywatch book — and the return plane ticket to Kazakhstan that is inside it.  The next day he wanders into a United Pentacostal camp meeting, where he is heartily welcomed and encouraged to forgive Azamat and Pamela.  The church members also take him the rest of the way to California, where he runs into Azamat.  After making up, Azamat announces that he has tracked down Pamela as a present.  Borat goes to a book signing with a marriage sack, intending to capture Pamela and make off with her; he is unable to do so, and is thrown out by the security guards.  Borat then returns to Luenell, whom he marries and takes back to Kazakhstan.

MY TAKE:  I fully expected to hate this movie, being that I don’t usually find stupid or ignorant humor funny (not a big Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell fan).  For the most part, I was not disappointed, although I will admit that I did laugh a couple of times.  I found the cultural exploration part interesting, but I could have done without all the sexual talk and nudity.  They were not necessary to the plot.  The unique thing about this movie is that while Borat’s part — and that of Azamat, Luenell and Pamela — are scripted, the others are not.  Sacha Baron Cohen actually went around dressed and acting as Borat, and talked to people he met.  Basically, the people in the film have no idea that he’s an actor — they think he’s an actual guy from Kazakhstan, so their reactions are completely genuine.  This provides a sometimes painfully honest look at their thoughts, but it obviously also led to a lot of anger and lawsuits.  Quite a few of the people — most of them the ones that made negative remarks or acted questionably — were not happy with the way they were shown in the movie, once they realized what was going on.  This is understandable, as I think you get into the invasion-of-privacy thing when you film somebody for a movie without their consent.  However, I doubt you would have gotten the same reaction for people if their consent was obtained prior to filming.  The idea behind the film is definitely intriguing, but the intermittent stupidity and unnecessary sexual content lowered my opinion.

RATING:  Good idea, questionable execution.



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