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Laughter is a perk of satire, not the point. The point of satire is exposing sinister truths that are best revealed by cunning or creative manipulation. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm largely fails at both the perk and the point, for reasons that are largely not the film’s fault but due to our massive shortcomings as a nation.
Wa wa wee wa! This is some fun way to start a review, yes?
Fourteen years ago, Sacha Baron Cohen introduced the world to Borat, a mustachioed Kazakh journalist who ruined the lives of anyone sexually attracted to men, as most of us still unconsciously slip into an impression of him every few days. That first film hit like a bottle rocket to the crotch on the Fourth of July. It was a nightmarish Polaroid picture of what America actually looked like, not the posed, cropped, and filtered image it shared of itself before Instagram was even a thing.
Subsequent Moviefilm returns the disgraced reporter to the United States. This time, his mission is to win the favor of “international ladies’ man” Michael Pence by presenting him with either a fabulous monkey or Borat’s 15-year-old daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova). The pair infiltrate a grotesque socialite dance, an alt-right rally, and Rudy Giuliani’s pants. The gags are good, Bakalova is next-level brilliant, and the whole thing feels incredibly, painfully sad.
Actually, that’s not true. In a genuinely poignant moment, an 87-year-old holocaust survivor counsels Borat, who is dressed as a Jewish caricature. That woman’s family has since sued Cohen, which is depressing, as her profound kindness in the face of audacious ugliness was the only genuinely liberating moment in the entire film.
Subsequent Moviefilm is overlong but otherwise hits nearly every target at which it aims. It often Robin-Hoods itself, splitting a bulls-eyed observational arrow in half with an even bigger reveal just a moment later. But we already know that reveal. And it’s simply impossible to LOL it up when the inherent truth at its core is so monstrous.
No one has tried to hide racism, antisemitism, misogyny, and sexual transgressions in America for at least the last half decade. Those things are now explicitly cheered for by thousands at rallies. How can satire expose what millions upon millions knowingly vote for? Even the shaming of vile bigots by documenting their idiocy isn’t satisfying. They feel no shame. They are too emboldened, too protected. When real news is called fake news, what good is a fake newsman?
Director Jason Woliner’s film is unsatisfying, not because of what it is but because of who we now are. Those celebrating Subsequent Moviefilm must have a special kind of optimism or an amusing kind of nihilism. Either way, they are able to see the movie as the triumphant accusation it is intended to be, while many of us are simply exhausted by a near-perfectly made reminder of what we already know too well.
Grade = B
Other Critical Voices to Consider
- Yasser Medina of Cinemaficionados says the film is “as necessary as it is relevant.” (Full review in Spanish)
- Angie Han at Mashable saw what I saw, as she says “Our culture has finally caught up to Borat. That can’t be a good thing.”
- Louisa Moore at Screen Zealots found the film’s feminism refreshing, saying “The critique of a society dominated by toxic masculinity is brilliant in its simplicity, and I’d never have guessed it would take a guy like Borat to put a fresh spin on women’s rights.”