Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and all the images you see in this review are owned by Amazon Studios
Directed by Jason Woliner
Remember when Borat was a thing? I mean EVERYTHING feels longer ago these days, but that movie was a genuine phenomenon for a while there and launched Sacha Baron Cohen into stardom. Fourteen years later, he finally returns to the character and gives us the sequel that… well we REALLY haven’t been waiting for since Bruno was kind of the sequel already, but perhaps the sequel that we NEED right now considering everything that’s going on in the world. Will this movie be VERY NICE like the first one, or will it get old faster than when everyone was doing Borat impressions? Let’s find out!!
Fourteen years after the first film came out, we find Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) imprisoned in his country of Kazakhstan for bringing shame and ridicule to its people after being part of such a silly movie. His chance at redemption comes however when the Kazakhstani government decides to send a gift to the Great Leader Donald Trump and gives Borat the opportunity to deliver it to his best buddy Michael Pence while recording his journey. With his gray suit, well-trimmed mustache, and a heart full of dreams, he heads to America to await the President’s gift and then deliver it to DC. However, things go awry when the box arrives and inside he finds NOT Kazakhastan’s prized monkey named Johnny to gift to The Donald, but instead his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) and a bunch of monkey bones. It seems that she wanted to join him on his journey and also got very hungry during the trip, so now Borat must find some other way to appease the Orange Leader. Upon realizing that the Cheeto in Chief likes young women, he decides to clean Tutar up and give her as a gift so she can become a princess like Melania Trump which Tutar is all for considering the alternative is to live her life in a cage; as is the Kazakhstani custom for women who are not married yet, and at fifteen years old she’s already over the hill! Will Borat make good on his promise to deliver his daughter to Mike Pence so his country can finally stop being the laughingstock of the world? What will Tutar learn about herself now that she’s in the land of the free and the home of the Whopper? Just how many douchebags did he beat off with a stick to get the shots he needed!?
There are a lot of things that can go wrong with a sequel like this, and for many people we saw proof of that with Bruno; though if you ask me, that movie was pretty great and the one that REALLY fell flat was The Dictator. Borat was lightning in a bottle and trying to recapture what made that movie work is an uphill battle that probably kept Cohen from trying to capitalize on this before now, but with 2020 being what it is, it’s hardly surprising that he found enough material to make the character and the style feel fresh again. It doesn’t have the BIG EVENT feel of the first film that launched it from a very good comedy into the stratosphere of pop cultural touchstones, but it definitely feels more relevant and in a lot of respects is much better made. There’s a more complicated story to tell, the mockumentary gotcha moments hit VERY hard with some amazing laughs, and while not every gag works (there are a few gross out moments that didn’t work for me), it’s got a genuinely upbeat spirit that’s infectious and makes it a strong addition to Cohen’s already impressive filmography.
Where the film was mostly a catalogue of the absurdity of America in a Post 9/11 society… well let’s just say that things are certainly more EXTREME now than they were then (or at least it’s more obvious to see the extremes than it was in the mid-2000s), and so Borat’s journey feels a lot more weighty and biting than his original trip. There’s a purpose here to Cohen’s satire and gotcha moments that wasn’t as present in the original Borat but has clearly been developing in his films since then with Bruno doing what it can to advocate for LGBT equality and The Dictator taking shots at America’s imperialistic and capitalistic shortcomings. The SCROTUS as well as the horrifying cancer that is the Republican Party have been the butt of jokes for the last four years so Cohen going after them is hardly breaking new ground, but his anger is palpable throughout as is his utter glee whenever he gets one over on them.
The biggest standout however is Maria Bakalova as his daughter Tutar who has the same kind of brilliant comedic timing and go for broke attitude that Cohen always brings to his roles and the big finale relies on her ability to not break character even in a VERY uncomfortable situation. As importantly though is that her relationship with Borat is what gives this movie some heart which was one thing that the first film lacked. Yes, there was a sweet moment here or there where someone was understanding of Borat even if he was being a massive jerk, but his quest to kidnap Pamela Anderson is one of the things that REALLY hits a sour note watching it today, and while Ken Davitian was a lot of fun, his role was primarily to bounce jokes off of and not to build a character and relationship around. As much as it is about the troubling politics of MAGA country, it’s also about confronting, to some extent at least, the legacy of Borat and some of the more negative aspects of his character and the premise of the movie that were brushed off at the time. Not ENTIRELY as a lot of the jokes are still primarily aimed at Borat being from a country of backwards creeps and Cohen himself is not shy to bring the character’s anti-Semitism to the forefront, but the character he goes on with his daughter is rather sweet… in context at least. I mean it’s still an intentionally button pushing movie and not ALL of that humor works, but they do a lot with that relationship. Perhaps the most memorable part of the movie won’t be Cohen crashing CPAC or Giuliani playing with his dick, but Tutar getting GENUINELY good advice from a sweet unsuspecting woman who was hired in the movie to babysit her. For as much as the movie is about shining an absurd light on the darkness that has infected our country, this moment is them giving us hope that things can get better.
As I said, things have changed a lot since the first film, and while this one does an admirable job of making the humor still feel relevant and funny in 2020, not everything works. Most noticeably I wasn’t as into some of the scenes that are about making someone uncomfortable which was pretty much the bread and butter of that first film. Sending a dick pic to someone thru fax, putting porn on a TV, and walking around with a fake penis feel more invasive than funny; not to an extent that I’m offended or would consider it inappropriate to an immoral degree, but that kind of humor doesn’t hit the same way it did fourteen years ago. It’s also harder to buy the authenticity of some of the more elaborate and extreme scenes with supposedly clueless people. They address the fact that Borat is famous early in the film and it’s actually pretty funny to a see a bunch of white bros basically CHASE HIM DOWN THE STREET to try and get an autograph, but there’s always this question whether the people he’s interacting with are aware of what’s going on; perhaps not COMPLETELY in on the joke, but aware enough that the reactions aren’t fully authentic. The latter half of the movie in particular has this problem as there are some complicated sequences that had to go JUST right and it’s hard to imagine that the people involved weren’t in on it. It’d be VERY impressive if they weren’t, but it was something that I kept wondering throughout the movie.
So the question is, does Sacha Baron Cohen’s brand of social commentary still work sixteen years later? The answer is a pretty resounding Yes. The big difference between this movie and the first one is that Cohen has a definite purpose behind this which gives it a vitality that a lot of Years Later sequels like this simply don’t have. I’d definitely recommend seeing this movie, especially right now when things are so bleak and intense that it’s worth finding something that takes those feelings and shoves them right down the opposition’s throat. A lot of entertainment is great at giving us distractions from the real world problems we face and even provide comfort for the hard feelings we have to deal with every day, but this is a movie that provides genuine catharsis for all of us who have had to listen to “THE BAD GUYS” run the show for the last four years. Movies like The Producers, The Purge sequels, give us a straightforward middle finger to fascists which may not be the most HEALTHY attitude to take, but I’m more than willing to indulge in it; especially when it’s done this well. Perhaps the shelf life of this movie will be much shorter than the original because of how much it is a product of its time, but when that time is NOW, it’s just the product we need as is its message at the end to GO VOTE! We’ve only got days left to make this nightmare go away forever, and it’s up to all of us to do our part. Sacha Baron Cohen did his! What’s your excuse!?