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.

  • Mary Jane Vaughn

    Jim Emmerson did the review on Eberts site ( I think Ebert is still recovering )

  • Mary Jane Vaughn

    Jim Emmerson did the review on Ebert’s site ( I think Ebert is still recovering )

  • “creme de la ketchup”

    Oh yes, what commoners.

    I agree that it’s not brilliant social commentary. It’s shock humor, cringe humor, whatever you want to call it. But for me, it worked.

  • Patricia

    To paraphrase our brave troops, “Halp me, crikits, I so stupit I don now with movie 2 see.”

    And Dargis! Of course she would love something “pitiless.” Pitiless is an apt description of her screeds about…well, everything.

  • Thanks for posting this!
    I have no desire to see this movie whatsoever, and usually I’m the first in line for un-PC movies. It just seems that the infantile aspect overshadows any potential brilliance. I think he’s just working too hard on breaking into US pop culture, after only having a so-so run in the UK.

  • Not seen it yet, but know an 18-year-old engineering student who has and was inspired to publish his first-ever film review ( Maybe the problem is the newspaper critics are the wrong people talking to the wrong age group for a film like this?

  • Hi Jeff,

    I usually agree with you on many things that make me write like a “fan-boy” but Borat works for me 100%. I almost laughed myself to half-death. And I am many many years older than the target audience group.

    Here is my review of Borat with some YouTube viedo links of both Borat and Sacha on late night talk shows.

    Sorry to hear the film didn’t work for you. May be because your expectation is very very high. I had a really high expectation on it and the film still managed to exceed my expectation.


  • Glad to see I’m not the only person who didn’t think Borat was “all that.”

    My review:

  • Paw


    As I’m sure you’d agree, Stuttering John did the whole embarassment schtick much better and he did it with celebrities to boot.

  • Based on the reviews, we went to see it. Dumb. Sophomoric. Childish. Toilet humor. A real disappointment. Laughed 2 or 3 times. Cringed the rest. If this is rocking Hollywood, can’t wait for remake of The Three Stooges: A laff riot! In short.. sucked!

  • Jim Karna

    Baron-Cohen doesn’t do the showing celebrities/ the public up half as well as Chris Morris did and there’s something i find a little dubious about the whole premise. Can you imagine the movie getting the same rapturous reviews had he blacked up and had Borat coming from, say, Ghana claiming to drink fermented urine and pimp his wife?

    I can understand the whole “this isn’t what i think, i’m just exposing middle america’s naiive view of foriegners” schtick. But isn’t it just really cheap laughs at another cultures expense?

  • Suzanne wrote: “after only having a so-so run in the UK.”

    I’m a Yank living in London, and one thing is very clear: Baron-Cohen is a hero and loved by most everyone under 50 in the UK. He’s seen as a true comic genius. Don’t know where you saw a “so-so” run, but Ali G was a massive success, and Borat is packing them in.

    Everyone here is loving the fact that Americans are getting all bent out of shape about the movie. The fact that it got pulled from heartland cinemas pre-release because the studio feared that people wouldn’t get it is only adding to the enjoyment.

    The sad part is that Jeff is right: It is too 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” …

    That fact is not as obvious to folks here, who still have a fairly idealized view of Americans, despite having lost all respect for American politics. It is the best shock and awe campaign the US has produced in years …


  • Irina, that’s some serious balloon art on your blog — y’all should go see for yourselves.

    Jesse Brown, a friend & associate of mine and a provocateur in print, radio and video here in Kanadia, wrote a piece for the Globe and Mail about how Baron Cohen “is leading a revival in prankster comedy.” Brown, whose summer show on CBC Radio “The Contrarians” explored unpopular ideas that might just be right (“feminism is over: women won” & “hip-hop is the greatest cultural contribution of the last century” were just two), argues:

    “But why has the prank chosen this precise moment to come into vogue? Perhaps it’s because reality itself has become too ridiculous to parody. We don’t need Dana Carvey’s talent for mimicry to see the president as a hapless boob with a silly speaking style. Nobody does a better Dubya than Dubya and his shtick is too frightening to be funny. Equally impotent is the smug, cynical standup of political comics like Bill Maher and Dennis Miller. In times as confusing as ours, who can genuinely claim to be so knowing?”

    Pretty good piece, and I do hope folks who wish to access it can still do so via the Globe & Mail Web site. (article title “King of all shenanigans”)

    Article link

    (Disclaimer: I haven’t discussed post this comment with Jesse, but since the piece has been published and any Globe reader can read it online, I figured directing some attention to his essay should be no trouble.)

  • Etain Peregrine

    So George what you’re basically saying is, if you hate America, Americans, and enjoy spitting on people to prove how superior you are to them, Borat is the film for you!

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