14 years later, Borat’s comedy cuts a lot deeper. In 2006’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Sacha Baron Cohen mostly targeted American niceness. There were exceptions of course – the rodeo man longing for a death penalty for gays, the frat boys pining for the good old days of slavery – but Cohen seemed more interested in exposing American passivity and willingness to accede to awful, offensive statements.
Well, to borrow from Malcolm X, the chickens have come home to roost. Decades of implicit racism in Republican (and to a lesser degree, Democratic) policies have led to a white supremacist POTUS. Conservative Christians sacrificing integrity for the sake of blastocysts have resulted in cruelly farcical Senate hearings for Supreme Court nominees. And with the slow death of American critical thinking, the majority of Republicans cite Fox News as their most trusted news source and accept some or all QAnon batsh*ttery as fact.
With knives drawn, Cohen wades into this mess. His targets are no longer subtle, a snooty dinner club on Secession Drive or a Confederacy-loving antique store. This time, any Republicans, whether a tiny women’s gathering or Trump’s right-hand men, are fair game for his stunts.
In going from Dubya’s “War of Terror” to our present-day Orange Menace, the complicity of Borat’s everyday targets is more active and pernicious. A hardware salesman helps Borat choose the best cage for his daughter. A baker doesn’t blink at inscribing hate speech on a cake. A gathering of mask-shunning gun nuts joyously sings a chorus of chopping up journalists and scientists “like the Saudis do.”
By now, anyone following a mainstream news source knows that Cohen disrupted Mike Pence’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference and has Rudy Giuliani on camera pulling a Harvey Weinstein at worst, a Louis C.K. at best. But just as nasty as the jizz about to spurt from Giuliani’s pants are the lies emerging from his mouth beforehand, claiming COVID-19 was manufactured in a Chinese lab and that Trump has saved at least a million lives with his brisk response to the virus. Similarly, Pence’s February boasts of Trump’s fabulous success in stopping COVID spread have not aged well.
The plotline for the Subsequent Moviefilm involves Borat’s return to America, to rehabilitate his reputation in Kazakhstan by offering his 15-year-old daughter Tutar as a bride to Mike Pence. Truth be told, the chemistry between Borat and Tutar (played by Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova) feels forced and lacks the charm of the previous film’s rapport between Borat and his cranky producer Azamat.
Cohen has said in interviews that he hopes his latest film will spur American women to cast their votes against Trump. To this end, his Subsequent Moviefilm does have a through-line of the myriad ways in which mainstream US culture denigrates women. However, these segments are less effective than Cohen’s critiques of the Republican Party and conspiracy gullibility.
I would gladly spend an afternoon arguing that the first Borat movie is the greatest comedy of the 21st Century. Even after its shock value wears off, its start-to-finish hilarity holds up with multiple viewings. The Subsequent Moviefilm by comparison drags in its final third, until revivifying for its shocking climax and clever denouement.
But with a perfectly timed pre-election release, this is guerrilla comedy of the utmost bravery. (Endurance, too: for one sequence, Cohen stayed in character for five days; for another, he hid in a bathroom stall in a fat suit for five hours, waiting for the optimal time to emerge.) And as a skewering of the bottomless depravity of American conservatism, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm succeeds utterly.
(Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is now streaming on Amazon.)
(Image credit for star rating: Yasir72.multan CC BY-SA 3.0 )