Fourteen years later Borat Successfully shocked us, embodying the lazy prejudices and prejudices the West holds towards the rest of the world, Sacha Baron Cohen returns to a landscape definitely altered by the apocalyptic combo of Trump and the coronavirus.
It’s heartwarming to see the character return, even if the joke is starting to feel a little out of date.
Here to brush up on the act (and avoid the obstacle of Cohen’s fame) is Maria Bakalova, playing Borat’s brainwashed daughter, Tutar, who slowly embraces Tomi Lahren’s version of empowering women on her journey through America.
In the original film, Borat’s narrative functioned as a loose frame, to hold the hilarious pranks together; in Borat’s Later Movie Film, the pranks seem somewhat secondary to the narrative, with a few notable scenes displaying the sparkle of Cohen’s signature.
But times have changed; it’s much harder to shock the public after everything we’ve seen in the last few years. There is no longer a need to expose hidden sectarianism – everything is open, manifesting itself in displays of illusion that even eclipse fictional traditions in Kazakhstan.
All the jokes don’t land, due to Donald Trump’s ever-growing absurdity, prompting even a genius like Cohen to repeat the same tired schtick that Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers seem to be definitely stuck on. The jokes about Melania and Mike Pence are neither original nor daring; it’s the kind of content that a simple scroll on Twitter offers in abundance.
It’s not at all surprising that the president’s lawyer is a scary sleazebag, or that the White House didn’t care about background checks and COVID-19 testing. And yes, you can easily persuade a group of Trump supporters to sing comedic and hateful songs – Cohen’s talents almost seem wasted with such low fruit.
Thankfully, the movie doesn’t rely on occasional human cruelty – indeed, it’s surprisingly healthy business. The thoughtful and well-meaning recoil from the ridiculously regressive values Borat and his daughter display is, on the contrary, more shocking than the depravity Cohen exhibits on camera.
When Borat stays with a few QAnon guys who casually state that Hillary Clinton drinks children’s blood, it sounds flat, almost boring. (Although, to be fair, I know more about these conspiratorial communities than any sane human being rightly should – if you’re not terminally ill, you might just find these scenes shocking. ).
But the humanity and warmth that Borat exhibits in his subjects offers a warm glimmer of hope in these strange times. Holocaust denial times proliferated by Facebook’s indifferent algorithm is directly called out, developed through a hilarious joke, and finally, contrasted by an adorable elderly Jewish woman who responds to Borat’s anti-Semitism with love.
Indeed, there are many moments in this film when the best angels in human nature triumph over Borat’s pseudo-intolerance; The purpose of the film doesn’t seem to humiliate the delusional lost souls that haunt Trump’s rallies, but to highlight the revulsion most feel about the current situation.
It’s hard to believe, however, that anyone appearing on camera here is not in the joke, or at least aware of being the victim of a prank (aside from Giuliani, of course).
Who is america really raised that bar, and a typical episode of Nathan for you is more ambitious in his disappointments than any scene in this film. But that’s not the point – Borat’s Later Movie Film not really about pranks.
Indeed, the best scenes of the film have already been disclosed, or discussed in detail before the film’s release. And that’s not always a bad thing – for example, the Rudy Giuliani scene is only reinforced by Giuliani’s reaction.
The film has a bigger point, beyond making conservatives stupid – history suggests that if Borat’s regressive attitude can be challenged, then maybe America’s soul can be redeemed as well.
Seeing Borat return to the screen was a lot like watching Emperor Palpatine return to Star wars; an old favorite inserted in a convoluted narrative, far removed from the simple triumphs of the original.
But it was certainly nice to see him again.