I was afraid to watch Borat because I am not the biggest fan of humor that hinges on making fun of easy targets, or of unsuspecting people. I hate those horrid candid camera deals they show on airplanes. They are not funny to me. But what Borat does is different. 1. It is a fantastic critique of the culture. People like Cohen and Larry David and Stephen Colbert are restoring it to the important place it should have in the culture, where it pushes the envelope of the acceptable and the politically correct and the complacent.
2. The wonderful thing about Sacha Baron Cohen is that Borat, who is a fully rounded character, does not only make you laugh by skewering easy targets. Cohen also happens to be an incredibly gifted, fearless comedian with impeccable timing. It is a joy to watch him perform. I can't think of another current comedian who is so adept at slapstick and physical comedy (and who'd be willing to have a fat, hairy, naked man sit on his face, for a good while). My friend Marta says that it's almost like performance art. I say it is much better and much more meaningful than performance art because the satire hits all the right places. And it is not pretentious.
The lovely thing about Borat is not only that he pushes the envelope, but that he does it so charmingly. Larry David also pushes the envelope in Curb your Enthusiasm, but he is not a likable character. He is an asshole. Borat is an ass, but he is not an asshole. There is something incredibly endearing about his appalling vulgarity and his peculiar sort of innocence and ignorance. And I, for one, am SO glad that someone is finally making huge fun of antisemitism and calling it like it is: stupefyingly moronic, retrograde, and fit only for brainless retards. The way he exposes the absurdity of antisemitism, or also the absurdity of homophobia is magnificent. Still, what made me laugh the hardest was not the most fiercely satirical stuff, (except his rendition of the US national anthem at the rodeo in Virginia and his speech about Bush killing the last lizard and drinking the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq. That was not only hilarious, but courageous and outstanding. On a par with Steven Colbert's speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner).
I laughed deliciously at the silly bits, which are simple and inspired and delightful. Like when he thinks the elevator is actually his hotel room and he starts unpacking. And the piece de resistance, the naked wrestling chase sequence, sounds awful on paper but somehow is extraordinarily funny. He even pays homage to the silent film comedians, and we should all be forever grateful that he knows that comedy doesn't have to be snide and smarmy, and that comedy can be vulgar and over the top and transgressive and extremely smart at the same time.
I love how Borat is an eager student, and he means to impress well. He is thoughtful and polite and good natured, and also blunt and incorrect. There is a scene with some creepy people in a southern dining society that went on a little too long, even if its intention of epater le bourgeois was right on. But the scene at the Pentecostal Church is a marvel of comedic restraint. He just stands there, as flabbergasted as us, the audience, watching these insane people go nuts. When he finally succumbs to the speaking in tongues, they can't even tell he's joking. Brilliant.