I was unimpressed with Borat. The most chortlable moments, for me, were slapstick (bear growls at kid from ice-cream truck after one-hour setup). Is it easy to find Americans whose morality, common sense, and intelligence are outweighed only by their hospitality, who are good at making asses of themselves and us? Obviously so. But biting social commentary? I wish. Brilliant buzz marketing is more like it.
Of course, I’m quite alone in this view: in the growly 4 percent amongst the commoner critics of Rotten Tomatoes. 100 percent of the creme de la ketchup loved it.
Let Manohla Dargis (Kazakh name, don’t you think?) speak for them from The Times: “The brilliance of ‘Borat’ is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy. Mr. Baron Cohen isn’t yet a total filmmaker like Jerry Lewis. . .” That line was funnier and more embarrassing than most of the movie.
This is mostly an opportunity for critics to think they can do shtick. Witness Paul Arendt at the BBC: “Welcome to the reviewing! Here, we in processes of making mind up for yous: Question: to go to cinegraphic house and see Borat, hilarious new celluloid making from funny prankster Sacha Baron Cohen, or stay home and milk chicken?” Give up your day job . . . please.
It is also an opportunity for critics to talk down to the rest of us, to let us know that they’re in on the joke and its greater meaning, as is everyone outside of Kazakhstan and Texas. Jim Emerson at Roger Ebert’s site: “The full title is ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.’ Every single word in that title (including ‘for’ and both ‘of’s') is, in its context, really funny. If you have to ask why, then you probably won’t understand why ‘Borat’ is funny, either.” Thank God you’re here to explain the joke to me, Roger.
What isn’t an opportunity for The New Yorker to find some great and otherwise-undiscovered social abstraction. Pontificates Anthony Lane: “Who is Sacha Baron Cohen? We know that he is British, that he is Jewish, and that he studied history at Cambridge, where his cousin Simon is a professor of developmental psycho-pathology. Sacha has entered a no less delicate field. He is a squirmist: a master of SECS, or Socio-Ethnophobic Comic Simulations, in which he adopts fictional personae and then marches briskly into the real world with a mission to embarrass its inhabitants.”
It is an opportunity for critics to get hiccups. They often do. Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal: “Borat may be dangerous to abdominal health; there must be a limit to how many convulsions a belly can take without trauma.” My belly’s just fine. So were those of people in the theater, who did laugh, but none to the point of hospitalization nor even spit take. I mean, he’s no Jerry Lewis.
It is an opportunity for critics to engage in hyperbolic leapfrog. Chris Hewitt in the Pioneer Press: “Borat is the funniest movie of the year, but is it also the smartest?” Lou Lumenick in the New York Post: “This is take-no-prisoners, social and political satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift and Lenny Bruce. . . This is the finest and most thoughtful comedy released so far this century.”
Gene Seymour in Newsday: “Borat IS the quintessential movie comedy of our times – whether you like it or not.” So there.
And it is another chance for unknown shmucks to get their names in lights, that is blurbs: “Face it, Borat is the funniest movie ever made!” says Orlandoweekly’s Jason Ferguson! Ever!
I’m hardly saying it is a bad movie, only that for me it certainly did not live up to its buzz, hype, or reviews. The movie’s not a disappointment. The criticism is.