Like The Naked Gun series, the Borat films seem review-proof. Sacha Baron Cohen’s schtick — playing the boobish Kazakh who coaxes out the polite, casual racism and misogynism of Americans — seems a mid ’00s phenomenon as tied to its era as Dubya jokes, 50 Cent singles, and Blackberries. The United States visited by Borat for the first time since 2006 remains more than unchanged: it has intensified its relationship with stupidity. Funnier and flabbier than its predecessor, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is less a film than a succession of sketches held together by the glee with which these rural Americans reveal themselves and by an unbecoming sentimentality.
The film is also like all art a prisoner of its times, only Subsequent Moviefilm is more so. A bellowing porcine menace before 2016, Rudy Giuliani has abetted Donald Trump in a litany of crimes; he made a seditious public statement last week. To treat this Scotch-slurping tub of guts an object of derision, in a now infamous hotel scene between him and Borat’s daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) would’ve turned my stomach even if the editing hadn’t muddled what looks to be the proffering of sexual favors. Other scenes are less confused. A baker cheerfully writing “Jews will not replace us! 🙂 :)” on a chocolate cake that looks like it swallowed a cat. The Christian crisis center doctor, thinking Tutar wants an abortion instead of the removal of a cupcake decoration, fights for the life of what he thinks is an unborn child. The Trump rally where Borat, with the help of bearded QAnon fuckos, writes a country toe-tapper that uses “Wuhan flu,” journalists, Obama, and Fauci as punchline.
The twist, I guess, is that the QAnon-ners support, at least superficially, feminism. How Borat learns to love his daughter after boasting about putting her in a cage for two-thirds of the running time comprises one of the movie’s themes. The young woman, initially photographed and made up as little more than a filthy animal in Kazakhstan, evolves from a servile non-entity who treats a book about a carnivorous vagina as gospel and says things like, “I will never get to live in a golden cage like Melania!” to a reporter alongside her father. Many critics have objected to what they call Cohen’s have-your-cake-and-eat-it attitude toward the material: by theoretically mocking these people, he nevertheless legitimates them. With the same hand he uses to slap centuries of harmful shibboleths about the inferiority of women he raises these women up; the baker and a small conference of female Republicans look like they’re good at their work, at the very least, and probably count supportive men as husbands.
Subsequent Moviefilm works best when it forces its targeted ghouls — forces us — to confront the awful things they/we love in rituals. I trust the guests at a debutante ball where Tutar’s menstrual blood plays an integral part of a Kazakh “tribal dance” really did clap politely. And I laughed hard every time Borat referred to “Vice Premier Mike Pence” as “America’s most famous womanizer” and director Jason Woliner (yes, the film was directed) cuts to “Mother” Pence embracing him. To avoid accusations of mixed motives, Woliner and Cohen end the film with a get-out-and-vote plea. Well, yeah. We voted, it worked, the insurrection happened anyway. The anti-Semitic baker and the QAnon conspiracists go to work, write songs, help old ladies cross the street. No satire will change this.