This past Sunday, W. and I had some rare family time with our only child, daughter Sherry who's spending her first winter since college away from her home in Portland, Me. She's up from North Carolina for a few days on business and to get her dog Lila, who's been staying with us.
So day before yesterday was a precious treat, which we started out walking Popham Beach at dawn with the dogs tearing up the wind-ridged sand in front of us. Everything we saw, even to the tangled-metal and rope of old lobster-traps washed up on shore, made us grateful to be alive, together again, and walking the coast of Maine.
Two hours later, we meandered down Route 1 to a little diner in Brunswick, for three-cheese chili omelets and great coffee. And that's where I - wanting to extend our togetherness and the spontaneity of the day - made the blunder of persuading W. and S. to take in a matinee later in the day. Seeing movies on the big screen has always been a rare event in our family, so I thought it would add to our treat to see a movie that several reviewers agreed would make us laugh for two hours straight.
So late in the afternoon, we came in three separate cars to the blockbuster movie Borat, S. arriving slightly late because she'd been pulled over by the police for a broken headlight. The theatre was completely empty, which - on hindsight - showed me that the movie's pretty much run through its primary audience by now.
I should have had another clue by the awful previews we had to sit through. They were either tasteless horror, like the new spinoff of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or disgusting grossness, like a team of people trying to move a beached Orca whale corpse, when pushing on the carcass break through the hide and are up to their elbows in revolting opalescent goo.
I muttered something to S. and W. about paying good money to sit through schlock, and S. whispered, "Mom, the previews are geared to the kind of audience they think the movie will draw."
Oh god! I thought, finally suspecting what we were in for. One more preview, this one of Ben Stiller as a guard in a museum whose stuffed animals and action-figures from history come to life at night, and I knew: Borat's main audience were adolescents!
And it was true. Yes, Sasha Barron Cohen is a great comedian, especially as a verbal mimic, and W. and I'd laughed till my stomach hurt at him as Ali G. in his DVD. But he specializes in breaking taboos, and - let's face it - most remaining taboos are the dregs: bathroom humor, grossly obese or misshapen bodies, public nudity, human and animal bodily fluids, excretion, masturbation, painful cosmetic procedures like bikini-waxing, etc. And the only audience still fascinated with breaking taboos are adolescents.
The rest of us demand more selectivity. A grossly obese man may have never before been shown on the big screen wrestling in the nude and suffocating his opponent with pendulous, R-rated body-parts, but just because it's shocking doesn't mean it's interesting. Ditto for excrement-covered walls, drunken frat-boys making racist remarks, and masturbation. They're all taboo, but inherently dull, making the story drag.
Again, I think Cohen is about the funniest and most brilliant man on earth when interviewing unsuspecting people, especially those who are puffed up or deluded by self-importance. So he's great in short stints. But over the longer period of a narrative arc, his material isn't selective enough to sustain interest, at least for a mature audience. One of the problems with the movie is that his primary conceit of interviewing people who believe that he's a professional interviewer and thus serious, which is made clear to the audience in his DVD's and TV shows, was not explicit in Borat. So several interviews with people who weren't public figures, I thought were staged with actors. For instance, Borat meets with a professional humorist, who tries to teach him how to tell a joke in America. I, for one, didn't even know there was such a thing as a professional humorist, so I thought it was a made-up situation. There was no surrounding context, no shots of signage on the guy's door, in his office, no certificates on the wall or title on his desk - unlike Congressman Bob Barr, another interviewee, with nameplate on his desk, the Capitol showing out the window of his office, etc.
Ditto for the professional etiquette-teacher, the dinner-table group, the rodeo, and many other scenes. And if I - who have been prepared for Cohen's technique by his video of Ali G. - didn't know this, there must be many more moviegoers who didn't get the full punch of these encounters either. That's too bad, because most of these interviewees were so blinded by their professional lenses or knowledge or stance to the world, they were literally unbelievable and I thought they must be actors; no one can be this naive! And thus, one of the most interesting messages of Cohen's comedy: that our own point-of-view shapes our perceptions and judgments - could have been largely lost in this movie - at least at the time.
Maybe I should just speak for myself here (being admittedly slow on the uptake). But I felt disappointed and a bit chagrined coming out of the movie. I apologized to W. and S. for it, and we agreed that although there were some very funny parts and that Cohen's extremely gifted, it's another reason for Netflicks.