In general, my reaction was “Meh.” The film had a few good laughs, but overall, I wasn’t impressed.
In case you’re one of the half-dozen people in the world who doesn’t know, the humor in this film mostly relies on Sasha Baron Cohen playing a misogynist, racist, anti-Semitic, culturally-ignorant Borat interacting with Americans who don’t know it’s all an act. I will say that Cohen is a talented improvisational comedian, and seems to be thoroughly convincing in his role. But I haven’t watched the “Da Ali G” show (where the character comes from), nor am I a fan of the “cruel practical joke” subgroup of the candid-camera genre. I think it’s fairly harmless to secretly film people’s reactions to silly situation (e.g. a person waiting at a bus stop is joined, one at a time, by four people dressed as superheroes). But I think deriving amusement from subjecting unwilling victims to embarrassing, stressful, annoying or even potentially hazardous situations is going too far (e.g. an attractive woman asks strangers to help her fix her broken-down car, and when they open the hood, they find the engine compartment filled with ravenous wolverines). Pranksters say they’re “just having fun,” but I don’t think it counts if it’s not fun for everyone involved.
Some of those who praise this movie have made much of the social satire in the revealing words of a homophobe who didn’t know he would appear in a feature film. Perhaps I’d be more impressed if the rest of the scenarios played like that. Most of situations aren’t so enlightening; they show ordinary people struggling to be gracious and polite to a stranger who becomes more and more socially difficult. That’s not insightful, that’s somebody being mean to people who are trying to be nice. Doesn’t do much for me.
So it boggles my mind that both the Academy and the WGA nominated this for “Best Adapted Screenplay.” It’s not so surprising that a number of Critics groups gave Cohen awards for his performance. Critics see tons of mediocre movies that all look very much alike, so they fawn over anything that stands out as different. Sometimes rewarding the unusual is justified (Memento), and sometimes it isn’t (Blair Witch Project). While this explains critical praise for the Borat character, the acclaim for the screenplay is bewildering. If it was mostly improvised, why an award for writing? And even if it was all scripted, is this truly one of year’s best adapted screenplays?
Perhaps I’m out of step with the rest of my culture, but I’m not one of those who is swept up in the Borat craze.