Sacha Baron Cohen is a habitual button-pusher. Each new project he takes on causes nothing short of a major public stir. Beneath the controversy, however, is a deep satirical intent, wherein his outrageous characters and the things they say get reactions from the (unknowing) participants that reveal ingrained truths about the world. Never before has Cohen’s intent been more focused, or timely, than in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.
Akin to the first film, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm has an ungodly long actual title. Its full official title is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The film’s premise is almost as absurd as that title: after the release of the first film, Kazahkstan’s “number 3 journalist” Borat Sagdiyev (Cohen) has brought great shame to his home country, leading to his imprisonment for over 14 years. A chance for redemption comes when Kazahkstan’s leaders get the idea to have Borat give a gift to the United States of America’s vice president, Mike Pence. The gift in question? Borat’s 15-year-old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova).
First and foremost, Borat Subsequent Movefilm is a comedy, and it is indeed very funny. Upon arrival to the United States, Borat is recognized so easily that he has to start wearing disguises to fool the film’s dumbfounded, very much real participants. Despite these disguises, Cohen is doing his traditional Borat shtick through and through. To some, this might seem stale. For longtime fans of the character, it’s joyous to see a master return to his craft.
No one can make civilians uncomfortable quite like Cohen. An early scene where he tries to procure a cage for his daughter gets a surprisingly nonchalant reaction of a salesman that’s equal parts surprising, hilarious, and discomforting in the way that all the best Cohen bits are. Major kudos to director Jason Woliner for capturing the “stranger than fiction” reality without embellishing too much.
Much has been written about Maria Bakalova’s performance as Tutar. Get ready for even more words in this review. Bakalova is nothing short of a godsend for this kind of docu-style comedy. Tutar is similar to Borat, although perhaps more goofy and unhinged. She imbues Tutar with a drive and curiosity that makes her distinct. Together, they make for a formidable comic duo that gets some hilarious reactions from those unfortunate participants.
It’s what they’re exposing, though, that makes Borat Subsequent Moviefilm go the extra mile. Mind you, set pieces like Borat and Tutar visiting a debutante ball are funny enough on their own. As is the scene where Borat and Tutar visit a Christian clinic to “remove a baby” that Borat “put in her” – with the baby being a plastic cupcake decoration she swallowed. But these two scenes reveal a passive misogyny within the men involved in such scenes. Furthermore, Borat’s time quarantining with some radical conspiracy theorists are frightening because they’re so recognizable to us as viewers. And then, there’s the infamous Rudy Giuliani scene, which the reader must simply experience on their own.
It paints an apocalyptic landscape of what America is in the modern era. Where it differs from the first film’s portrait of the U.S. is giving us a way out. Borat and Tutar have mid-film interactions with two different people who show them a genuine kindness Cohen rarely captures in his work. And throughout the film, Borat and Tutar grow closer together. Longtime fans may express disappointment in the heavy presence of scripted elements, but in this film, they’re borderline vital to telling the story Cohen so desperately wants to tell. And we’re all the better for it.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm will satisfy those simply looking for a raunchy comedy with a character in a silly voice. And I can’t begrudge anyone looking for that. Yet, Cohen and co. have grown up a hell of a lot since the first film, taking a biting look at what’s wrong with America and how it could be fixed. This leads to a film that is uncommonly touching for a comedy, and unquestionably the most important film of 2020. With Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the message ultimately transcends the bit. – James Preston Poole
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is now streaming on Amazon Prime and playing in select theaters/drive-ins.