On Friday, November 3, 2006, I left school particularly quickly to meet my uncle at a movie theater nearby. My Uncle Mike was always the cool uncle, who knew good movies, so he had made a point of seeing “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” the day it came out. You can probably see why he was the cool uncle.
In the weeks leading up to that day, Sacha Baron Cohen’s first theatrical release was heralded as a wide variety of things, including “sexist,” “offensive” and “the funniest movie of all time.” Mostly unfamiliar with Borat’s previous appearances on “Da Ali G Show,” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I got was a new type of comedy that I’m still not sure I was ready for.
When “Borat” first came out, intrepid Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev was more than an accent and the collection of catchphrases, like “Var niiccee!” and “How mauch?” that worked their way into frat boy-friendly pop culture references. Borat was shocking and dangerous in a way that most formulaic studio comedies wouldn’t dare to be. Baron Cohen put himself in situation where he realistically could get hurt, but his dedication to the bit instead transitioned each encounter into classic comedy.
Baron Cohen’s new film in theaters this week, “The Dictator,” takes a head-on approach to criticizing both America and the foreign dictatorships it struggles against, but even without a main character seemingly ripped out of the front pages, “Borat” managed to comment on significant issues like the country’s attitudes towards foreigners, racism and homophobia in a hysterically subversive way. Most of the laughs in “Borat” live and die with the audience’s tolerance of awkward situations and the decimation of unspoken social agreements.
Though “Borat” hasn’t necessarily aged well in the collective cultural memory—many now consider it a comedic fad along the lines of “Napoleon Dynamite”—but separated from that current standing, Baron Cohen’s first major release remains his finest with his brand of brutally honest comedy still as biting as ever.
Call them “cult classics.” “Guilty pleasures.” “Comfort movies.” We all have a mental rolodex of flicks that may not be terribly popular but, for one reason or another, they resonate in a very special way. Maybe you saw it at the right moment. Maybe you just see gold where everyone else sees feces. Whatever the case, these are the special favorites that you keep stashed away for sick days. These are some of ours. Tell us about your Sick Day Stash picks in the comments or on Twitter!