One of my favourite documentary series ever was Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends. In it Louis spent time travelling America and searching out some of the weirdest groups and societies to discover what made them tick. Where Louis was a genius was that he was very laid back – almost nerdy. He’d bumble around and often come across as slightly apologetic for encroaching on his subjects time.
But, in this method was pure genius. After a time with Louis, the subject would totally relax and end up becoming far more revealing than they ever would under normal TV reporting conditions. Louis was a master at this and would then start subtly asking the clever questions. He famously got a strict Neo-Nazi to admit to loving ‘Are You Being Served’.
What resulted was a fascinating tour around America and some of the darker aspects of its culture.
With this in mind, I was looking forward to Borat. The trailers made the concept look very similar to Louis Theroux. Borat is a bumbling fool around whom his subjects can relax thinking they’re not going to get grilled. Obviously there are differences. Louis Theroux seemed genuinely affectionate about his subjects whereas Borat is just there to take the piss.
In the film, where Borat uses these techniques there is pure genius at play. We get some amazing insights into American life. There’s the hideous Rodeo man who demands that Borat should shave his moustache off so he doesn’t get mistaken for a ‘dirty Muslim.’ The part with the grotesque college student who admits that most women don’t have his respect and there’s the chilling sequence set in a evangelical church where people seem to be being visibly brainwashed.
Sadly these moments of genius occur a lot less often than the hype would have you believe. The majority of the film is a heavily scripted tale about Borat’s desire to marry Pamela Anderson. Much of this material resorts to cheap throwaway gags and toilet humour. Don’t get me wrong I like toilet humour but when it’s churned out alongside such cleverly funny stuff as the ‘genuine’ moments in the film it really grates, and sadly, utterly disappoints.