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YellowJacket Apocrypha

I was generally pleased with this review, and it wasn’t printed in the YJ (I also submitted a review of Stranger Than Fiction, and they went with that one instead of both, presumably due to space considerations). Enjoy the review that you may avoid not enjoying the movie. I probably wouldn’t hate it so much if it weren’t so satisfied with itself, as though it had actually proved something.

I would also like to note my appreciation of Brett’s role in allowing me to see the movie. Without him I wouldn’t have found anyone to go with, and consequently I wouldn’t have gone. He’s a great cognoscenti of low culture, my brother. That’s not necessarily an insult, mind you. Joe of “Joe Loves Crappy Movies” is also a great surveyor of the baser offerings of the entertainment industry, and he does great work.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
starring Sacha Baron Cohen & Ken Davitian
Rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language.
20th Century Fox
Written by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines and directed by Larry Charles

Summary: Borat Sagdiyev, a television celebrity from Kazakhstan, travels to New York City in order to learn from American culture to benefit his own. Seeing footage of Pamela Anderson on a rerun of “Baywatch,” he resolves to find her and marry her, and sets out for California in a used ice cream truck, discovering America along the way.

1 star

Disparaging a film that is intended to be satirical can open someone up to ridicule. Perhaps, some might suggest, you have no sense of humor. Clearly, they will assert, you just didn’t get it. Fear of such accusations is my only explanation for the near-unanimous critical acclaim that has greeted Sacha Baron Cohen’s leap to the big screen. Certainly, satire in any given medium has a propensity to escape a large portion of its audience, but there can be no doubt that in this case the emperor has no clothes (a fact which the film seems eager to parade all too literally throughout its excruciating 84-minute runtime).

In setting out to ostensibly lampoon, parody, satirize, and otherwise ridicule American bigotry and intolerance for the amusement (presumably) of a more enlightened public, Sacha Baron Cohen has succeeded in three things.

First, he has created a character and dragged him through situations that only an audience which is either bigoted or is callously unaffected by racism and discrimination will find consistently funny. The biggest racist (and, in fact, almost the only racist) is Borat himself. This is ostensibly a tool wielded skillfully by Cohen to expose the outrageous attitudes of many Americans. Many scenes, however, are filmed in isolation from reality. Borat is alone in a room, or surrounded by a staged event, but he’s still plying his schtick for self-serving laughs. We are expected to derive comedic joy from the outlandish bigotry with its offensive caricatures and hurtful misrepresentations.

This has nothing helpful to say about the realities of ridiculous prejudice because it’s all a put-on, and we are supposed to find the misogyny, the homophobia and the anti-semitism (to name just a few) funny on their own merits. Meanwhile, his reprehensible characterization of people from third-world countries could very well entrench harmful stereotypes.

Second, in his search for wanton bigots (of which I’m sure there are still more than a few left in our country) Cohen has somehow managed to find almost exclusively tolerant, hospitable, genuinely nice people who go far farther out of their way than I would to tolerate “Borat’s” belligerent, cruel attempts to offend them. The movie’s few bigots (Which could be counted on the fingers of one hand) range from an elderly redneck to a trio of drunken frat boys. Surprise, surprise.

When he is invited to dinner at the home of some upstanding members of a southern community, Cohen begins by pretending to assume that one of his fellow guests is mentally retarded (rather than “retired”). His hosts patiently correct him. He ups the ante by paying sexual compliments to a few of the (married) ladies around the table, and insults the appearance of another. Still,everyone accepts that this must be a difference in his culture, even saying as much when he excuses himself briefly from the table. Then he returns with some of his own excrement in a sack. His hostess rises to the occasion, tactfully pulling him to the side and graciously explaining the finer points of indoor plumbing. Finally, Borat invites a prostitute into their home, and even then everyone tries to find a delicate solution. Only when Cohen sadistically continues to feign ignorance of his continued egregious behavior (and refuses to leave) do things finally turn ugly.

Third, of the few outrageous reactions that Cohen manages to wrench forcefully from his victims (because, racists or not, everyone who has scenes with Cohen are victims themselves), almost all are the result of repeated actions by “Borat” which travel far beyond the boundaries of sanity and good taste (see above). In short, he has proved that, if pushed hard enough and long enough, most people do have a breaking point. Fascinating. In short, this is not a canny and scathing satire on the dark heart of American culture, it is “Jackass Three.”

Not every moment of this film is a complete failure. I can think of one scene (really only one) that succeeded rather well, when Borat visits a rodeo. After listening to a few remarks from the only genuine, sober bigot in the whole film, Borat plods out into the arena and dupes the crowd into cheering some rather outrageous statements about wiping out the population of Iraq before they catch on. It got me to laugh from time to time. But then, many of the situations are staged (all are manipulated heavily in some way) and some are not (with no differentiating between the two). The filmmakers are hardly playing fair at any point. If you can’t expose, ridicule or refute something that is as big of a no-brainer as racism on a level playing field, you have already failed. And that makes this is a tacky, sloppy and ultimately cataclysmic effort.

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~ by Jared on December 12, 2006.

One Response to “YellowJacket Apocrypha”

  1. Very good… I’ll post the link on our forum here…
    FYI in case you publish this, I do not think the last sentence is gramamtically correct … though I haven’t slept more than 3 hrs in the last 50 or so …

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