Freeheld stumbles over too many hurdles to recommend it. The film’s heart is in the right place, but its focus is not.
Very nice. I like "Borat" very much. I think it is, as everybody has been saying, the funniest movie in years. And not because it is dumb (although it's very dumb), but because it is smart (and it is very smart). 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. But that doesn't seem likely.
Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) is the leading television personality of the glorious but socially backward and underdeveloped nation of Kazakhstan. This is not the actual former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, unless Borat's sister really is the No. 4 prostitute in the country, and has a trophy to prove it. Borat travels to America, which turns out to be a nation almost exactly like Kazakhstan, only much larger, and with different accents, customs and even more inbred village idiots. In America, they are called "frat boys" or "creepy old rednecks in cowboy hats."
That is about all for the plot. Borat encounters many different people and situations -- some of them staged and some improvised, "Candid Camera"-style, with unaware participants, as on Cohen's HBO TV series, "Da Ali G Show."
Since I am determined not to spoil the movie for you by recounting any more of the gags, perhaps I can ruin it -- er, enhance your enjoyment of it by further explaining why it's so funny.
At the very beginning, Borat explains: "Although Kazakhstan a glorious country, it have a problem, too: economic, social and Jew. This why Ministry of Information have decide to send me to U S and A greatest country in a world! to learn a lessons for Kazakhstan." Again, this is something of a test: If you do not understand why it is funny -- especially the phrase "economic, social and Jew" -- then "Borat" you may not like.
Borat's views of "Jews" (it's not clear he's ever met any until he comes to America, and he doesn't recognize them when he does) are like his views of Uzbeks. They are the bad guys because, well, that is what people in his nation believe, and his country has institutions and customs designed to reinforce such useful, identity-defining prejudices against 'The Other'. The cartoonishness of Borat's naive beliefs (he's an ignorant man, but not malicious) takes the ridiculous stereotypes of "Crash" to even more hilarious extremes, and does a better job of undermining them as fantastical paranoid creations.
The movie is shrewd and discerning about choosing its targets. Borat likes African-Americans because he thinks they're cool (and part of the unspoken joke is that this generalization is just as racist as his fear and loathing of Jews or Uzbeks). He's homophobic, but he can't tell who's gay and who isn't. And because his culture thinks nothing of intimate physical contact between men, he has homosexual experiences without even realizing it. Because he doesn't think of them that way.
The Anti-Defamation League, while acknowledging that Cohen himself is Jewish and the movie is in no way malevolent or anti-Semitic, nevertheless has expressed fears that some insecure souls "may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry." Is it possible that, in glorious nation of America, we still harbor peoples who are more stupid than Borat? Yes, it is -- and "Borat" proves it. But if morons will find reinforcement for their bigotry in "Borat," then they'll find it in "Seinfeld" and "Deal or No Deal" and "Riverdance," too.
An interview with Michael Shannon on Freeheld, 99 Homes, Boardwalk Empire, and more.
Our monthly series digs into the career of Wes Craven and comes out with his 3D 2010 film, "My Soul to Take".
A comparison of Frank Costello in The Departed and Whitey Bulger in Black Mass reveals weaknesses in the latter.
A letter to Angelina Jolie about the casting of her upcoming take on "Cleopatra."