29 October 2020

How About Another Borat?

 It was truly the movie no one knew they needed. Somehow this tired and dated character is exactly the injection that 2020 needed. And by injection, I mean a syringe full of cold sad gypsy tears. Listen folks, I haven't seen a movie in the theaters since Rise of Skywalker (2019), and that's driving me crazy. Traditionally I won't talk about everything I see because that'd be 200 articles there alone, but we really need something for October. This is our life now. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020). Spoilers forever, you know what's going on by now.

Eleven years ago, I named the Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) the #6 greatest film of the decade. Looking back on it, do I regret ranking it above The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Pan's Labyrinth (2006), and City of God (2002), all of which were not ranked? Of course not, we are trying to make a credible movie website here. I also apparently praised it for its hilarious racism, I am sure I meant to dissect the nuance and satire. I have evolved quite a bit in the past decade. Mostly. I should probably go back and re-write all these old articles.

But clearly I have been a Sacha Baron Cohen fan, although it's been a torturous existence. He really has never captured that Borat magic again, despite trying again and again. Bruno (2009) had its moments...I guess. And his scripted efforts have largely been at best underrated (Grimsby [2016] is actually not bad at all), but none have had the cultural force of Borat. Baron Cohen claims that he felt compelled to return to the character due to the horrors of the Trump Presidency, but it's also definitely because he hasn't had a movie that has stuck the landing in fourteen years.

Immediately the premise sounds like a bad idea, but also a character that might still work. After all, even though we are in the Woke Age, there are still sections of the populace more racist than ever. That's the thing - satirizing racists and misogynists' won't ever really get old, because they will always be lurking in some dark corner. And with Trump, that might be a bright corner. We live in this really weird age where everyone is cancelled but simultaneously no one cares? That's really why Hollywood idols and Democrats have faced the bigger brunt of cancel culture, because those fans actually care about inappropriate comments and actions.

So, enter Borat. The film wisely dials up his insanity, with a particular focus on treatment of women, which is a nice way to bring in another character, Borat's daughter, played by the incredible Maria Bakalova. Some folks are talking about an Oscar nod for her, mostly because no one has seen any movies this year. In 2006 I was of the firm belief that Baron Cohen deserved to be recognized. It is quite magnificent acting with no one ever saying cut. What better example of bravery do we have on the silver screen these days?

Borat 2 pulls no punches with its main character, which makes his casual interactions all the more unbelievable. Baron Cohen has said that he is more interested in illuminating apathy to racism rather than explicit hatred, and this film refines that thesis stronger than its predecessor. Most vendors are simply interested in selling as much as they can to this foreign weirdo and dare not call out his ridiculous worldview lest they lose the sale. Is that an indictment of the capitalist notion of earning the sale at all costs? I like to think so. You can see how hard he pushes, waiting for some kind of push back. It's maybe why he seems so confident in this film that no one is going to turn around and call him out.

Of course, there is a bit of fun editing. Watching the raw footage of him at the pro-gun rally shows that the crowd isn't as into it as it would appear. There's definitely some chanting along, though. He was also chased out of that rally. In this kind of film it's always a little bit of a question as to what is real and what is staged, or at least edited. Baron Cohen generally lets his hapless prank victims speak for themselves, and I mean literally, whatever they say is caught on camera.

The film is weakened a little bit by simple virtue of everyone nowadays recognizing poor Borat. Very quickly the character Borat realizes that he is going to need an array of disguises in order to walk around America a second time, which is something actor Baron Cohen realized years ago when he first tried to retire the character. Prank movies just don't really work when the actors get too popular. The same thing happened to the guys from Jackass. The film handles this well at the start, with strangers on the street immediately recognizing Borat, and Baron Cohen reacting to that in character. There's also a brilliant bit where Borat finds a generic knock-off costume of himself in a Halloween shop. However, after that it becomes a bit of a narrative stretch that the character Borat would be this good at making costumes and voices to disguise himself. Is that a real complaint? It's an obvious concession in order to actually make the film, but it brought me out a little bit. Parts felt like Who is America? which always seemed to me like Baron Cohen trying to hard and not really ever hitting the satirical sweet zone of "In My Country There is Problem."

At the same time, there are plenty of jaw-dropping moments, some that made national news before we knew what was going on and of course the now infamous Rudy Giuliani moment. I wonder how Baron Cohen knew what he was getting into - did he just assume the worst and knew it was going to be gold? Or would he have just tried with various Administration Officials until he got one that fit the narrative? I am so interested in their process here.

And speaking of Rudolph, let's get into Tutar, the character played by Bakalova who somehow manages to hold her own against Baron Cohen, the clear master of this kind of craft. She's absolutely fearless - showing off your moonblood in the middle of a Georgia Cotillion takes, well...some balls. Again, I truly wonder how much prep she had. There are plenty of solo pranks she undergoes with no safety net. It's amazing and fun to watch. She brings so much new life into this old character and provides the catalyst for Borat to undergo actual character development, which is all sorts of amazing.

Lastly, we should talk about how Borat is responsible for the coronavirus, which is inspired and timely, although will almost certainly date this film. I'm not sure if that matters at this point. The within-movie premise, that Borat has been in a Kazakh gulag for fourteen years and that the Kazakh premier unleashes him as revenge on the world for their reception to Borat is pretty inspired, as well as a nice commentary on how bad the first film was. There is no pretension here.

Subsequent Moviefilm is a worthwhile experience for any Borat fan, or anyone starved for a good comedy, or just any kind of movie at all in 2020. It's an acquired taste of course, but it could have stumbled way harder than it did - in this form it mostly works pretty well.

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