“No, no, no… You’ve got it all wrong.”
That’s a phrase I’ve often had to keep myself from saying. Given the frequency which it works its way into my mind (but not into my conversations), it’s about time I reconsider that stance. Maybe I’ve been wrong all long. More often I just convince myself of the superiority of my own opinion and retreat to the internet to read viewpoints which coincide with my own.
Few movies have made me feel so disconnected from popular understanding as Borat. It’s not that I didn’t find it funny; far from it. Any movie featuring a nine-minute nude fight scene is bound to get a laugh from me, even if it’s the only laugh in the theater.
It’s always seemed there’s a deeper source of Sasha Baron Cohen’s humor. A good part of it derives straight from shock value, and there’s nothing wrong with laughing at a foreigner yelling at a woman under the assumption she’s a gypsy or not understanding the concept of a “not” joke.
The more interesting part of Borat was the reactions of the people trying to deal with
this crazy, heavily-accented man. He pushed every non-actor in the movie to strange and, at times, dark places. Reactions range from tender old couples who try their best to understand and help a man who is both ignorant and offensive to the law suit wielding frat boys who confirm every negative stereotype you already held while possibly inspiring a few more.
And that was the whole point. Cohen elegantly showed America contained all of the naivety, eagerness, ignorance, cruelty, and hope so brilliantly combined into one well mustached character. That, my friends, is satire.
So why did I write three hundred words on a movie that came out six years ago? Because the humor of Borat has been boiled down to a badly done, “Very nice!” In fact, one of my (possibly former) friends quoted this line and I had to do my best not to either resort to violence or break down in tears.
Once I had recovered from the terrible pop culture reference, my thoughts turned to the future, or, more accurately, I saw another commercial for Cohen’s next movie: The Dictator. The movie doesn’t come out for another week and the studio, along with Cohen himself, have been doing their best
to ensure a big opening. In doing so, they pushed my viewing to a trip to the Redbox at best.
For the American audience, this will be the first time seeing Cohen’s schtick in a fully scripted environment. It’s actually his second shot at it, following the terrible, terrible Ali G’s In Da House. Kids, don’t watch too many Saturday afternoons of cable movies; it’s out there, waiting to ruin an otherwise wonderful hangover recovery.
In Da House exemplifies all my fears for The Dictator. Uninspired jokes bounced off wooden actors playing stereotypes which come off simply as dumb at best and mean at worst. The promotional material so far has consisted of jokes about vaguely middle eastern looking men scaring mid-westerners with unintentional terrroristic threats, the oppressive actions of the titular character, and the nastiness of New Yorkers. Nothing approaching the subtle intelligence of Cohen’s previous work.
It would be impossible for Cohen to make another movie in the style of Borat; he’s far too recognizable. He deserves a certain amount of sympathy for this (as much as any other world famous, multimillionaire actor). For the past five years, he’s been unable to perform the characters he spent the previous decade perfecting.
For a couple of years, he’s coped with this challenge in remarkable ways. He’s turned in excellent performances in Sweeney Todd and the Oscar nominated Hugo. He’s shown himself capable and took on interesting roles in Tarantino’s Django Unchained (which he’s unfortunately dropped out of just a few hours before this article is due) and a Freddy Mercury biopic of which details are scarce.
But before we can see him in those roles, he’s doing his best to force General Aladeen into our general cultural consciousness. It’s too bad this time he didn’t bring a mirror in which to see ourselves, but instead brought a funny foreigner for us to laugh at.
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