‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ provides outrageous comedy and unexpected poignancy
Editor’s Note: This review contains mild spoilers and, due to the nature of the film, discusses some offensive subjects.
Writing a newspaper-appropriate—or anywhere-appropriate, for that matter—review of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is a bit like trying to tiptoe around a sleeping lion with tambourines strapped to your ankles. Nevertheless, here we are.
Sacha Baron Cohen returns as Borat, the now-disgraced Kazakh journalist who is tasked by his government to travel to America and regain the respect of their leaders after his disgraceful 2006 film. He plans to accomplish this by bestowing a lavish offering onto Vice President Mike Pence, America’s “most famous pussyhound” or, in the movie’s official language, “Gift of Sexy Monkey to American Regime for Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan.” However, when his 15-year-old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) sneaks onto the boat to America with dreams of becoming “the next Melania,” Borat decides his daughter will be the offering instead.
In a series of unbelievable encounters beginning with a scene of Borat successfully infiltrating the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes, ending with an “Oh my god this cannot be real” scene with a… touchy Rudy Giuliani, Borat and his daughter navigating a new and very different America than he visited long ago.
Cohen returns to form as the now-iconic character without skipping a beat, this time with a Robin to his Batman in Bakalova. Their brilliant chemistry adds a new dimension to the traditional Borat stunt, as their possibly-illegal, definitely-strange father-daughter relationship leaves everyone they encounter dumbfounded, from store employees to pastors to the movie’s true hero, Jeanine the babysitter. Like the original, the movie seeks out and finds the rabbit holes of America, but this time those holes are more like canyons. On the backdrop of a pandemic, a vicious election cycle and an intensely divided America, Cohen and company need only turn on the news to find a target for their next stunt. The scale of what’s possible has grown given the climate, and Cohen and company take full advantage. Now it’s not a small dive bar singing along to Borat’s anti-Semitic lyrics; it’s an anti-mask protest, whose heavily armed participants join Borat to sing “Corona is a liberal hoax” and “inject ‘em with the Wu-Han flu.”
Like the original, Cohen dive-bombs without remorse into every controversial topic from feminism to COVID-19 to disinformation, and his character is so outrageous, so deliberately offensive, that it’s hard to imagine anyone taking his antics to heart. Rather, his vulgarity pierces the veil of decency and provides a meta-commentary on America’s increasingly public warts. As Borat ventures further into America and “learns” from increasingly extremist sources, the viewer gets an idea of how easily one can fall into the trap of disinformation.
In his most impressive performance to date, Cohen quarantines for five days—in character—with two far-right zealots who indoctrinate Borat with QAnon conspiracies and alt-right dogma. The obvious fictions that Borat believes, such as women being inferior to men or Jewish people being evil, are paralleled by similarly toxic American views he is told: China weaponizing the coronavirus and Hillary Clinton drinking the blood of children to stay young, just to name a few. The difference is that Borat is merely a character, and his lies are written in the script—the people he encounters who peddle such conspiracies are not playing to the camera. Cohen deftly manages to not expose something unseen in America—the rise of extremist, alt-right ideology in the US has been embarrassingly public—but to capture it from the inside out. In this way, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” not only succeeds in following up the successor’s hysterical stunts, but also in providing a new lens through which to observe and critique the growing issues in the United States. I have to admit, it is surprising that this nuance is coming from the same character who coined the term “Wawaweewa!!”
I thought it would be nice to leave you with a small list, without context, of a few things you’ll see over the movie’s 96 minutes, and I’ll let you decide for yourself whether the film is for you:
A “fertility dance”
Bodysuits of all shapes and sizes
An abortion clinic
Genitalia. Lots of genitalia
A very disturbing children’s book
Proceed at your own risk.