It was 14 years ago when Sacha Baron Cohen struck comedic pay dirt with his mockumentary Borat, solidifying his fearless jabs at the idiocy around him and creating a legendary character in the process.
It seems only fitting that 2020 is the perfect time for another Borat bloodletting, and boy, he doesn’t hold any punches. In our current state of gross incompetence, bankrupt moral corruption and rampant selfishness, Borat Subsequent MovieFilm feels like a comedic salvo that shows we truly have crossed the satiric other side with no return. It’s amazing that an outrageous character like Borat seems more reasonable than many of the people and establishments he lampoons here. I won’t give away any names, but it’s a glorious thing he manages to capture on film over and over again.
Following the template of the first film, Cohen again embodies Kazakhstan’s third most famous reporter as he’s sent to America on a mission of goodwill in the hopes of endearing his government to the Trump administration. As those plans quickly fall apart, Borat is saddled with the presence of his daughter (a memorable debut for actress Maria Bakalov, who matches Cohen in courageous bouts of playacting), and the duo embark on a journey that not only brings them closer together, but allows for plenty of gallows gender humor.
Alternating between vicious candid camera set-ups (one of them at a Georgia daddy-daughter dance that stands as the most outrageous moment in a film laden with them) and scripted portions, Borat Subsequent MovieFilm swings for the fences and more often than not succeeds. Clearly, the ideas for this new effort have been gestating for awhile and Cohen has found the perfect cluster of world events and attitudes to ply his trade.
Those clips that popped up several months back of someone possibly being Borat and singing a racist country song that gains impromptu sing-alongs from the crowd? Yep. The murmured interruption at a national conservative convention that made the social media rounds? Check. I can only imagine the lithe skill director Jason Woliner and stars Cohen and Bakalov had to exert in casting themselves into such situations before anyone figured out the joke.
The first film navigated its comedic graces around (mostly) everyday people and their reactions to this very odd foreign reporter. Borat Subsequent MovieFilm mixes in some of that, but the stakes are even higher here and it works.
If there’s one thing that dulls the sharp political satire, however, it’s Cohen’s insistence on hammering away at the elements of Jewish xenophobia and male patriarchy. Parts of what made the first film a bit ugly are present here as well. One can’t help but think there’s plenty of larger cultural fish to fry and these potshots aren’t necessary.
But looking beyond these insensitivities, Borat Subsequent MovieFilm shows that Cohen’s shotgun approach to comedic criticism knows no boundaries. Here’s hoping a third film will come along when we need it… or maybe an off-shoot starring Bakalov.
Borat Subsequent MovieFilm is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.