Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm ★★★½

So how would Sacha Baron Cohen work Borat in an age where the country has become far more ignorant and absurdist than he could possibly imagine? Where's the punch of getting Q-Anoners to talk about Hillary Clinton blood libels or Rudy Giuliani to declare that China deliberately released the coronavirus when that's become part of the white noise on social media? As it turns out the answer....take a page from Taika Waititi. No kidding. I said in my review of the first Borat, Cohen and company making the character so empathetic kinda backfired on them. For the sequel we have a more narrative and character-driven film, one where a lot of the spontaneous danger improv'd interviews is traded in for scripted moments where the writers have a much tighter control of the comedy and the satire. That might disappoint a lot of fans, but for me Cohen is a stronger performer with a script than he is trying to coax shocking answers from willing participants.

Borat actually grows as a character, aided in part by his 15 year old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova). Naturally Borat is drawn to the macho authoritarian chauvinistic bluster of Trumpism, though more interesting is Tutar looking towards Melania Tump's version of the American dream: a submissive Eastern European trophy for a lascivious rich old man. Her journey takes her on a cross-section of the conservative ideal of the trophy wife from an Instagram sugar baby, to a Republican women's group, to her final form: a Tomi Lahren-style "reporter" who Giuliani convinces himself he's about to bang. This is extraordinarily brave work from Bakalova whose status as a relative unknown in the west has her taking on the majority of the non-scripted scenes. They're not *as* illuminating as the first movie: the Giuliani bit is not as incriminating as it was hyped up to be, if only because Rudy being a gross womanizer is already common knowledge at this point.

However it's her rapport with Cohen where a lot of that aforementioned Waititi warmness comes in. It's Taika's favorite theme of distant fathers reconnecting with their kin. And like Jojo Rabbit I think Cohen holds onto the optimism that even the most ignorant can change to become better, if not wholly good people. Borat actually has moments of self-reflected clarity that in themselves are self-critiques of the original film. His casual misogyny in the first film gives way to him recognizing the personhood and agency of Tutar far more than Trump and his cronies ever will. His antisemitism is much more than shock value this time around, instead it's used to highlight how casually it's embedded into American culture. Even then a trip to a synagogue has Borat reaching *some* sense of humanistic understanding of Jewish people, albeit still wrapped in ignorance.

So what does a Borat movie look like in 2020? Well largely what you expect, taking aim at the usual targets: Q Anon, Covid, CPAC, and Giuliani. But ultimately its strengths lie in a story rooted in the generational divide, a resonant struggle that is coming to a head on Election Night. Whereas the first Borat stared into the toxic waste of turn of the Millenium American culture, Subsequent Moviefilm has a pulse of optimism than we are ultimately better than the fringe weirdos that seem to control the cultural narrative. Time will tell (and by that, the American election results as of 11/3/20) how well that message will age.