It might be too relevant for its own good, but Sacha Baron Cohen's dedication to the character and the rich political environment makes this a worthy, very funny sequel.
It seemed certain that the masked, reversed spies in Tenet would be the defining cinematic image for 2020. That was until President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani was filmed putting a hand down his trousers whilst opposite a girl he thinks is a teenage journalist. Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm is equal parts comedy, equal parts horror; filled with shocking gags and mortifying, genuine actions of real-life Americans, such as Giuliani’s heavily scrutinised scene.
2006’s Borat is one of the crown jewels of comedy. Lightning in a bottle, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakhstani character is ubiquitously quoted, recognised and imitated. A sequel always seemed doubtful: how could Baron Cohen achieve his antics when so much of the world now knows who he is? The solution draws on the success of Baron Cohen’s Who is America? (his equally scathing insight into the people of the USA) by deploying the same extensive disguises and prosthetics for Borat to go undetected across the southern states.
The plot, as barebones as it is, finds Borat finishing his prison sentence (for bringing shame on Kazakhstan in the first film) and being sent back to the US-and-A to present his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) as a gift to vice president Michael Pence. The concept plays out as one would expect of the backwards Borat taking his Kazakhstani daughter to the more technologically advanced, slightly more socially progressive country of the USA. Here Tutar will express her horror at seeing women drivers, sleep in a cage and be walked around on a chain.
There are some belly-achingly good jokes at the expense of everyone: Justin Trudeau and Obama receive pot shots, there is an absolutely divine incestual-abortion sequence with a pro-life advocate and a dance at a debutante ball that will either fetch up your dinner by disgust or fetch it up through excessive laughter. This is a film that runs two parallel lines down those two reactions, blending the repulsive with the bruising political honesty of the state of modern North America.
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm could be argued as the first pandemic picture (excluding Rob Savage’s Host); Borat at one point enters lockdown with two immensely stereotypical Republican supporters, at one-point quipping “fuck der social dizstance” as he awkwardly embraces one of them. The film does succeed in getting through the potential drawbacks of filming in a distanced world and no other film has ever felt so of its time, although this could become a criticism. The blunt satire and socio-political jokes are indeed uproarious fun, but they are so exclusive to 2020 it seems unlikely audiences will be watching this in ten years’ time with the same passion that they still bring when watching the first Borat.
It’s a strange experience to sit through. To paraphrase Lord Byron, the difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction must make sense, which is why Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm is utterly unbelievable. It is moderately depressing to see Trump supporters sitting in fold out deck chairs, casually sporting semi-automatic scoped weaponry on their laps whilst also arguing with genuine conviction that the Clintons manufactured Covid-19. And speaking of conviction, respect must be given to Baron Cohen and Bakalova for their total mastery of the straight face in these scenarios, never dropping character no matter the situation. We expect it from Baron Cohen, but Bakalova comes close to stealing the spotlight.
Time and long-term relevancy will determine this film’s legacy, but for a wonderful pre-election piece of ‘vote for not Trump’, it is certainly essential viewing. But if Donald Trump called Baron Cohen a “creep”, then brace yourself for the worst.
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, directed by Jason Woliner, is distributed and available to watch in the UK via Amazon Prime Video, certificate 15.