Jagshemash! In a year as chaotic and unpredictable as 2020, it only makes sense for comedic maestro Sacha Baron Cohen to return with another round of biting satire to catch naïve Americans completely off guard. After the success of his Showtime miniseries Who is America?, Cohen returns to arguably his most famous comic creation—the inept, inappropriate and ardently anti-Semitic Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (yes, that’s the full title) follows Borat 14 years after the first film. He is now imprisoned in a gulag for life after making a mockery of Kazakhstan to the world. He’s sent back to the United States by Kazakh Premier Nursultan Nazarbayev to deliver Johnny the Monkey—Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture and noted porn star—via shipping crate to Vice President Mike Pence in order to redeem the nation and get into Donald Trump’s inner circle. Unfortunately, Borat finds his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) in the shipping crate instead, with Johnny dead. Nazarbayev threatens Borat with death if he doesn’t give a gift to Pence, so his only solution is to give him—you guessed it—his daughter.
With that premise alone you know Cohen is going to be up to his usual hilariously crude tricks, and there’s no doubt this film will dominate the cultural zeitgeist once again. Most notably, a section involving Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has already stirred up major headlines for his incredibly problematic and plain creepy actions towards Borat’s daughter—even though he’s tried desperately to deny them since they’ve surfaced. So much of what made Borat such an effective film in 2006 was that everyone in America seemed to believe this person was real (shame on them for presumably not seeing Da Ali G Show). With the character now well known, Cohen has to disguise himself while in character as Borat. In varying disguises, Cohen and Bakalova visit etiquette experts, plastic surgeons, synagogues, debutante balls, phone stores, crisis pregnancy centres and freedom rallies. There’s a scene which rivals the shock value of the infamous elephant uterus scene in the last Cohen-penned film Grimsby. In one of the film’s more outlandish segments, Borat goes to live with two QAnon conspiracy theorists who believe the Democrats are more dangerous than COVID-19. They eventually write a song called ‘Wuhan Flu’ which Borat (in disguise) sings at an anti-lockdown rally. It includes lyrics such as ‘chop them up like the Saudis do’, which the crowd sings along to with glee. As Cohen correctly put it, America’s racism was far more under the surface in 2006 than it seemingly is today.
The ability to meld the scripted elements with the unscripted encounters is also as good as it could be considering the film had to be altered on the fly as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated. This approach also helps create one of the funniest comedic endings I’ve seen in a long time, with a twist that was legitimately surprising. This entry is directed by Adult Swim veteran Jason Woliner and I can’t imagine how hard it would’ve been to meld this into a coherent whole considering the state of the world right now, but what he, Cohen and his co-writers create is seamless.
Along with its series of hilarious comedic set pieces, this film also has a surprisingly optimistic and heart-warming narrative through line. Compared to the first, it’s definitely more story-driven with the relationship of Borat and Tutar being at the centre of this film. Anyone who’s seen a Borat sketch from Da Ali G Show or the first film will know that he’s a bit of a perv and outright sexist who instils these beliefs into his daughter—there’s a continuous running gag early on where Tutar is shocked that a woman can own a business and drive a car. As much as it’s a Borat film, it’s really about his daughter discovering her own independence and autonomy as a young woman. On paper, the addition of Borat’s daughter could’ve been a disaster, but it’s actually this film’s secret weapon which is executed with genuine panache and humanity. Bakalova is absolutely incredible and even gets a chance to carry her own scenes without Cohen anywhere in sight. If the Academy actually wanted to note comedy this awards season, she’d be in line for a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
It’s basically as good as a Borat sequel could be long after the first film. Borat’s schtick shouldn’t feel as essential as it does, but Cohen confirms that this character is the perfect tool to expose the nasty underbelly of America’s racism and acts as a perfect mirror to show America’s overt ignorance. It’s just what 2020 needed.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.