Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020) - Movie Review

As much as the whole in-character interviewing shtick has grown somewhat stale in recent years, I’d be remiss if I didn’t reaffirm that Sacha Baron-Cohen might be one of the only comedians alive today who can pull that shtick off. Indeed, his feature-length depiction of Kazakh reporter Borat Sagdiyev remains one of the greatest mockumentaries of all time, as graphic as it is bitingly hilarious. And in an odd showing of how heroes show up just in the nick of time to save the day, Baron-Cohen has delivered a follow-up to that classic in what can reasonably be called the best time possible.

For a start, it opens with an admission of what gives characters like Borat such a short shelf life: Once you get recognised in the street, it’s difficult to get people to go along with the act. Seeing him find a Halloween costume based on himself is nice and surreal, and him repeatedly being in-disguise while still in-character makes for some good Tropic Thunder-esque fourth-wall nudging, but knowing how much of an obstacle actually having an audience turned out to be for similar gags pulled by the Jackass crew, seeing it admitted to in this fashion gives this a nice jolt of creativity right out the gate.

From there, it pretty much maintains everything that makes Borat as a character so cripplingly watchable: The earnest naivete, the insistence on sticking to character and, most importantly, delivering such intentionally-regressive ideas with such a straight face that it allows whoever is on the other side of the conversation to respond in kind. And while it may not be as visually graphic as before, the observations made about feminism, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories at large, pro-life-ers, and of course the current COVID debacle, are unabashedly scathing. Like the best interviewers, Sacha-through-Borat establishes trust to unearth some real jewels from his interviewees, using political correctness to reveal just how much more fucked-up the American mainstream has gotten since 2006.

The film itself is structured much like the original, which results in some of the same telegraphing of gags ahead of time… but maintains the effect that seeing them unfold in real-time causes, making everything from a visit to the GOP’s favourite workers (bakers), to a quite revealing trip to a Crisis Pregnancy Centre, right up to a denouement that really nails it home just how much of a caricature America has become everywhere else in the world, work just as brilliantly.

While banking on the same kind of prejudice satire as Drawn Together, where the prejudice itself is so overblown and asinine that it’s impossible not to find it funny, the inclusion of Maria Bakalova as Borat’s daughter Tutar adds another timely layer to the film’s look at modern-day America. She fits in beautifully with Baron-Cohen, the two playing off each other carries a lot of the non-interview footage, her own character arc makes for a remarkably nuanced look at modern femininity and how it’s influenced by… well, influencers, as well as the larger political sphere (shown through the story of Melania Trump as a Disney princess), and while her scene with Rudy Gulliani is a bit overhyped for what ultimately goes down (doesn’t have the punch of Borat running naked through a mortgage broker convention), her other scenes involving period blood and vagina dentata more than make up for that.

The only thing better than a timely film is one that makes ample use of that timeliness, which Borat Subsequent Moviefilm accomplishes in spades. It delivers the same reflected prejudicial satire of the original, but brings it to audiences at a time when not only have we been starved for decent political satire, but when we need someone with the balls to call out all the increased levels of bugfuck for what it is. He may not be the hero we were expecting, or even the one some would have wanted, but I can’t deny that he’s the hero we need right now.

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