SPOILER ALERT: I’ve tried to avoid giving away any key parts of the movie, but if you want to see it with a clean slate, read no further!
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is funny. Extremely funny. Trained bear in an ice cream truck funny. But that’s about as far as it goes. As social commentary, I’d prefer South Park or The Simpsons any time.
As Mrs. MG so aptly put it, Borat is a kind of Jackass of social interaction. The protagonist doesn’t hurt himself for our amusement, as Johnny Knoxville & Co. are wont to do; rather, he puts complete strangers in extraordinarily awkward situations and then films their reactions. Think Punk’d with a circa 1985 moustache and an Eastern European accent.
The fundamental weakness of Borat is that, in his roadtrip across America, Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t reveal anything to us that we didn’t already know was there. The characters, who are real people, are stereotypical stock characters from Americana — the gay-bashing rodeo organizer, snooty southern socialites, even the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold. The most poignant commentary to be found comes from an evangelican church whose members ignore Borat’s physical needs but are only too happy to “save” him spiritually.
Oh, and you’ll never look at a conference of mortgage brokers the same way again.
The movie does, however, include one worthwhile cultural learning — Americans are, by and large, a very hospitable people. That hospitality has its limits, which are often despicably delineated by race, class, gender or sexual orientation. But time and again in the movie, Americans open their businesses and homes to Borat in a generous fashion, only to have that generosity backfire. It’s an interesting cultural insight — about the only one on offer.