Since the astronomically successful, Oscar-nominated film in 2006, Borat has become a household name. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakhstani-reporter character Borat Sagdiyev and his infamous mankini have morphed into something of a cultural icon. To much surprise, it was announced in September that the comic had revisited the character to make a sequel. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, shot pre and post-Covid, embeds itself in America’s seedy underbelly and paints a hilariously dark picture of the country in 2020.
Under the guise of bringing a gift to Vice President Mike Pence, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm follows the reporter as he goes back to America to disrupt and cause havoc. Though this time, he’s flanked by a daughter. Played by the quite brilliant Maria Bakalova, her character Tutar often steals the show. A dynamite duo, their chemistry is so effortless throughout as they expose the worst of American culture and values. Baron Cohen has never shied away from broaching controversial topics and this film is no different.
It has to be said that at times, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a little too on the nose with its politics. Whilst blatant digs at various famous figures often land, they can feel like cheap gags, undeserving of your laughter. This is a shame, as, on the whole, this film is hilarious. Baron Cohen’s ability to manipulate has arguably never been finer. Whether it’s convincing a crowd to sing about injecting Obama with the “Wuhan Flu” or somehow lodging with nonsense-spouting Trump supporters during lockdown, his knack for influencing is marvellous. It’s right up there with some of the comic’s funniest material, which says a lot.
The way Borat in his various disguises is able to get Americans to willingly detail their skin-crawling opinions and desires is a testament to Baron Cohen’s dedication to creating a better world. He wants everyone to witness the dark side of people, from general citizens to those right at the top. Supported by Bakalova who works some serious magic as Tutar, this film easily achieves its goals. Culminating in a quite sickening encounter with former NY-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, there’s certainly going to be some tough questions as a result. On the surface level though, he exposes disdain for Jews, women, abortion, journalists, scientists and the list goes on. Basically, as many of us knew already, there’s a lot of nastiness in America.
That’s not to say this film lacks heart though. At its core is a disarmingly sweet story about an interesting father/daughter dynamic. Like many of Baron Cohen’s recent films though, the general plot is predictable and overplays on its obvious silliness. That said, there’s some nuance to the writing through which a more subtle message translates. Though not in abundance, there are glimmers of hope sprinkled into the film. A surprisingly touching encounter with a woman babysitting Tutar certainly warms the cockles. A prank at a synagogue soon turns out to be a lovely moment in the film. Despite its deliberate exposure of negativity in America, Borat Subsequent Movie is keen to demonstrate that there are good people to be found everywhere.
The manic, fly-on-the-wall nature of the film ensures that it requires substance, not style, to succeed. With that in mind, one has to admire some of the craftsmanship on display here. The dedication to capturing the footage, via alert camerawork, crazy costumes and sublime improvisation is to be applauded. Annoyingly, whilst the central story does work, it sometimes felt clumsily interspersed with the chaos around it. The editing is a little wonky on the whole, save for a quite excellent montage towards the end. Generally, though, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm runs far more smoothly than the events it captures.
On the whole, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is definitely one of Sacha Baron Cohen’s best films. Despite a predictable, sometimes OTT plot, a couple of cheap laughs and some heavily on-the-nose politics, it does work tremendously well. Maria Bakalova is fantastic and sometimes shows the typically impressive Baron Cohen up. The comic hilariously manipulates and exposes Americans in consistently maniacal ways, making this one of the year’s funniest films for sure. Rightfully critical but still preaching positivity, it’s a bittersweet tonic for 2020. As Borat, himself would say: “very nice”.
Words by Elliott Jones
You can watch Borat Subsequent Moviefilm here.