Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #91

The actor:Sacha Baron Cohen
The character:Borat Sagdiyev
The film:Borat
The quote:“Very nice, how much?”

At the moment, I didn’t expect this to become a formative memory. Looking back across half of my life, this is absolutely a formative memory. I saw the teaser trailer for Borat on MySpace.

Most of it was just stuff from the “Kazakhstan” sequences of the film, when Borat is showing us around his hometown, introducing us to his sister (“number four prostitute in all of Kazakhstan”), preparing to leave for the United States, “JAGSHEMASH,” you know the routine. It stuck out to me because I had never seen anything like this in my young life. I didn’t know what a mockumentary was, or that people did stuff like this outside of like, Candid Camera, but on the other hand I never believed for a moment that Borat was anything other than a guy pretending to be named “Borat.” This is a second piece of this formative memory, that someone could honestly believe that this Borat dude was a real dude and not someone who was acting his nuts off. (All things considered, I’m a pretty trusting person, but I was also born in the only eight-year window where people taught us not to believe everything we saw on the Internet.) And the third piece of this formative memory is a line from the teaser that made me laugh harder than anything else from Borat media. “Pliz,” Borat implores us. “Come see mah moviefilm. If it not success, I will be execute.” Gets me every time. If it were actually in Borat, I’d have put it in here.

The distilled essence of Borat, which I imagine would smell like freshly recovered ambergris, is in this “Very nice, how much?” It’s a line that has been quoted so much, like “Mah wiiiiife” or “Great success,” that it’s a cinch to make a list like this based on the AFI standards. I didn’t remember how it was used in the film, which is probably because the movie just spends no time on it at all. Borat looks at a woman, says “Very nice, how much,” and the woman doesn’t even appear to have heard him. Certainly she doesn’t react at all. Maybe it’s just the magic of the movies and they dubbed Baron Cohen in after filming, or, even more likely, it’s New York and women in New York don’t have time to notice every pervert who propositions them on the sidewalk in a given day.

Less of Borat than you’d think is spent on Sacha Baron Cohen proving that Americans are sickos and dopes. Most of the movie really is just about Borat being a skinny nincompoop accompanied by Azamat, a fat nincompoop, and completing his advanced degree in Nincompoopery while he’s studying abroad. See the naked wrestling on multiple floors of a hotel for further proof. The stuff where he meets those frat boys from USC or gets a rodeo to cheer for the genocide of Iraqis has lasted longer because it works as a remarkably potent historical shorthand for this incredibly distressing period in American history. “Very nice, how much?” is less deliciously historical than praying that George W. Bush will get to drink the blood of every Iraqi, but it’s also more relevant. There are more men in America thinking and saying, “Very nice, how much?” than making hugely overt anti-Semitic comments or clamoring for another war in the Middle East.

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