I wanted to like Borat. Hell, I expected to love Borat. And, aw shucks, I should admit that I nearly peed my pants during the epic nude wrestling match in the hotel. But I laughed there because it was the one part of the movie that truly felt unhinged and absurd–I mean, what the hell?!–instead of merely calculated to look unhinged and absurd. I spent the 6-hour drive from Jackson to Dallas trying to articulate in my mind why I disliked the movie so, only to find that George Saunders has done it for me. He did it as a fake memo, outlining what could be put on the DVD as extras:
RODEO NATIONAL ANTHEM SECTION: Would be great if we had a series of shots where we see hundreds of people in the rodeo audience driving home, in their “pickups” or whatever, troubled at the thought that hundreds of other people in the audience continued to cheer even after the “Bush drinking blood” line. We could focus on one particular couple who have had complicated feelings about the war in Iraq from the beginning, even though they (1) live in the South and (2) enjoy rodeo. (Although too unbelievable?) A nice touch might be: This family sees Borat hitchhiking, picks him up, he sits in back seat of car with kids, takes shit in back seat, then pretends to be humping the family dog, and we see, from their reaction, that they really are rednecks after all.
And especially this…
“GANGSTA” SECTION: The scene where Borat says something intentionally offensive to the inner-city black guys—where is that scene? I have been unable to find it. Here I definitely suggest a reshoot. In the attachment, I have provided a list of common racial slurs that Sacha could try out on “the brothers,” just to see what they do to him. My thought is, that seems to be the ethos of the rest of the film, i.e., Sacha saying/doing the most offensive things possible, in order to elicit a reaction—so I sense a little inconsistency here. Thoughts?
GAY PRIDE PARADE SECTION: Ditto here. Where are the gays insulted? Have noted, from perusing other sections of film, that chief targets of satire seem to be clueless middle-class whites, so a suggestion: Cull through Gay Pride footage to I.D. some clueless middle-class white gays, ask them embarrassing personal questions—e.g., Borat could quiz naïvely about details of anal sex, etc. What a riot!
That right there is the movie’s inherent problem. It pretends to be an exposé of American attitudes about politics, race, and anti-Semitism, but it doesn’t attack all Americans equally. It chooses easy targets, loads the deck even further with stupid scenarios and mean props, and then expects us to laugh.
Armond White went waaaaaaaaay overboard–no surprise there–but his essential premise (“Director Larry Charles chooses reaction shots of beefy, disapproving white folks [during Borat’s mockery of the National Anthem]. Surely Mets and Lakers fans would have felt the same insult [ask Roseanne Barr], but Cohen doesn’t dare risk offending the markets where his checks are signed.”) is dead-on. And he’s the only critic I’ve read who notes the obvious: that, on a purely visual level, Borat is one of the ugliest movies of the year. The video-to-celluloid transfer is awful.
Still, White loses his marbles at several points during his critique, going on his own misguided jihad. George Saunders’s piece is the criticism White was trying to write.