REVIEW: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

Release Poster – Amazon Studios

Directed by Jason Woliner — Distributed by Amazon Studios.

In 2006, Larry Charles’ mockumentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan — or, you know, just Borat — became a cultural phenomenon. Fourteen years later, Sacha Baron Cohen has brought back his most popular fictional satirical character for the purpose of ringing the alarm bell as Americans get ready to vote in the 2020 Presidential Election. Although it’s not as fresh, sharp, or funny as the original hit film, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm [sic], as the sequel has been titled, is arguably the funniest movie of the year.

Jason Woliner’s mockumentary follows Borat Sagdiyev (played by Sacha Baron Cohen), who, since the release of 2006’s Borat, has been punished by his home country for having humiliated it. However, in an attempt to curry favor with President Trump, Kazakhstan’s Premier orders Borat Sagdiyev to go to America with a camera crew to present Vice-President Mike Pence with a gift from Kazakhstan — Johnny the Monkey, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture. But when Johnny the Monkey dies on his way to America, Borat Sagdiyev decides that his teenage daughter, Tutar Sagdiyev (played by Maria Bakalova), can take Johnny’s place. Now Borat has to get his daughter ready for their all-important meeting with the Vice-President.

So, let’s get one thing out of the way early. As I’ve indicated, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm acknowledges the events of the last film and the very real passing of time. This doesn’t just mean that the film, in its own fictional and comedic way, acknowledges how frustrated Kazakhstan is by the character, it also means that the film, in a way, acknowledges the success of the first film. It really had to. Because the vast majority of Americans will know who Borat Sagdiyev is either by his appearance, his costume, or the way he talks. In the film, Borat quickly discovers that he is unable to walk down the street without being quoted or recognized. This is fairly problematic for the film since arguably one of the best things about the first film was watching Borat fool Americans while wearing his regular grey suit. So, almost like in Baron Cohen’s series Who Is America?, the film gets around this problem by disguising the character and making Baron Cohen act as if Borat is pretending to be a stereotypical American. While this can be fun, it’s not always as fun as watching Borat Sagdiyev in the first film. In the second half of the film, Borat Sagdiyev lives in lockdown with two male conservatives who are apparently oblivious to who Borat is. However, thankfully, even though significant parts of the film were filmed this year, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm does not at all feel hindered by the pandemic. In fact, I think the film’s many writers actually use the pandemic to their advantage as it, in a way, becomes an important and interesting part of the plot.

As he always is in these types of films, Sacha Baron Cohen is hilarious as Borat Sagdiyev, and, again, even though this brand of humor is not as fresh as it was back in 2006, it is by no means stale. However, I think even Baron Cohen would agree that one of the main reasons why this film works as well as it does is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm‘s secret weapon, Mara Bakalova. The as of yet relatively unknown actress can, like Baron Cohen mastered with Borat Sagdiyev in 2006, expose bad behavior. Bakalova is every bit as funny as Baron Cohen is in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and without Bakalova — and the father-daughter narrative arc at the center of the film — Baron Cohen would, for the most part, really only have material fit for his show Who Is America?, which, though fairly good, is not at all as memorable as these films.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s satire in Borat, Who Is America?, and the like is meant to expose America and its inhabitants and reveal their true nature. Whether Baron Cohen’s alter egos meet with prominent politicians, right-wing conspiracy theorists, or even random plastic surgeons, the goal seems to be, like the saying goes, to give them enough rope that they’ll hang themselves and reveal who they really are. In films like these, Sacha Baron Cohen — dressed up from head to toe — will tell someone something ridiculously offensive, and often, instead of being scolded for having said something despicable, Baron Cohen’s character will get a fooled American to go along with the bit or even get someone to say something doubly hateful or ignorant.

This time around Sacha Baron Cohen has targeted and attempted to expose the Trump presidency, misogyny, and even Facebook, but the film’s narrative arc, which is surprisingly affecting, is about a father beginning to understand his daughter for she really is. Of course, one might say that the film doesn’t really reveal anything that we didn’t already know. But I would argue that the film isn’t necessarily trying to reveal something new to us. I think of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm as more of a timely reminder. Jason Woliner’s mockumentary attempts to remind people of the importance of their vote. At the very least, as the film comes to an end, the film basically orders you to use your vote, and I think the filmmakers make a pretty good argument why it would be disastrous to waste that vote.

In the end, I think how you will respond to the sequel will depend on both how much you like the original 2006 mockumentary and how well you understand Sacha Baron Cohen’s brand of comedy. Because Jason Woliner’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is another fearless comedy led by Sacha Baron Cohen, and, while I do think it is true that the sequel is not as fresh as the first film, I also think it is, nevertheless, an inventive and very funny sequel.

8 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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