Borat’s satirical genius, both the film and the character, is that this carefully crafted construct allows for the people being implicated in Borat’s shenanigans to expose themselves for their profoundly rooted bigotry without them even knowing that they are being fooled. The widespread rise of Islamophobia post 9/11 in the United States created a perfect climate for Sacha Baron Cohen to create the most outlandishly cartoonish caricature of Middle Easterners. But unlike other comedies at the time, Borat’s jokes weren’t so much directed at the Middle East or low hanging jabs at their culture as much as it was directed at Middle America. In doing so, Borat exposed the xenophobic and frankly racist values and worldviews that a subsect of America harbours. In the years since, that subsect, which we formerly believed to be a minuscule minority living in the crevasses of this country’s underbelly, has shown itself to be much louder and more politically influential than Cohen could have even predicted back in 2006.
With an American regime that’s just as, if not more, worthy of mockery than when Borat first visited “Yankeeland,” now seems like the perfect time for Borat’s brand of biting satirical view of American politics. His return sees a much more crowded space as entertainers (including Cohen himself) have repeatedly mined the absurdity of Trump’s administration for comedy, but Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm remains sharp if not quite as incisive as the original.
Picking up 14 years after the original film, Borat is sentenced to a Kazakhstan gulag for disgracing his nation by making the first movie. His only chance at freedom is to offer a gift to the Trump Administration to restore Kazakhstan to its former glory on the world stage. He is joined by his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) on his return trip to America as they infiltrate Republican conventions, right-wing rallies, and a certain former New York mayor’s pants.
Cohen has higher aspirations with his targets this time around, honing in on specific high ranking members of the Trump Administration such as Mike Pence and Rudy Giuliani. While he drums up a lot of noise from these encounters deserving credit for his ambition, it feels as though he doesn’t go far enough beyond creating an annoying disturbance that can be easily brushed off, particularly with the much-discussed Guiliani appearance. While his actions documented in the film are far from flattering for his image, it also doesn’t feel like the career-ending scandal that it had been hyped to be.
The biggest obstacle facing a Borat sequel in this age, aside from the ongoing pandemic and oversaturation of material, is openly acknowledged in the film. Sacha Baron Cohen and the Borat character have become far too widely recognized, making it difficult to recreate the same chaotic magic of the shenanigans that Borat was able to fool people with the first time around. To compensate, Cohen, in character as Borat, is forced into disguises to remain anonymous to his subjects. It’s a necessary solution to keep the typical Borat formula alive, though it takes away from the joy of seeing Borat in character as we know him for most of his screen time. Another useful story tactic is the use of Bakalova as Borat’s daughter. She blends in with Cohen’s style of shock humour and, in many instances, can carry entire ruses on her own in the same manner that Cohen would. But without him to lean on, it is highly commendable for any actor of any calibre to be able to live up to Borat’s style of comedy as well as Borat himself.
Another significant difference is the change between the world of the sequel compared to the first film. When Borat inadvertently manages to trick his subjects into revealing their hidden racial and homophobic beliefs in 2020, it feels less shocking to hear someone speak candidly, exposing their own bigotry. Given where we are now, these people have become way more comfortable wearing those ugly views on their sleeves with pride for the world to see. So when those same types of people start spewing misinformed and hateful rhetoric, it doesn’t feel as revealing because we’ve been hearing those viewpoints out in the open every day across social media for the past several years. Though this does raise the question of, “Has America gotten worse or has it always been this bad, but it’s just gotten worse at hiding it?”
Whether or not Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm manages to be as shocking or outrageously hilarious as the first film is almost an irrelevant concern in some respects considering Cohen’s intentions this time around. He’s not out to tell us something that we don’t already know. He’s taking what we already know and using that as an incentive to clown on interest groups and high-ranking officials that deserve to be embarrassed for their beliefs and actions. It’s certainly done its part to stir up controversy leading up to the presidential elections and even ends with an urgent message of “Now Vote. Or you will be execute.”
Review: Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm remains sharp if not quite as incisive as the original.