What’s new, readers? As of the time that I’m posting this, Joe Biden continues to inch ahead in battleground states, but the votes aren’t finished being tallied yet. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is trying to halt the vote-counting with a desperate onslaught of litigation and apparently has no plans to concede defeat. Seriously, I can’t wait for that pathetic, sulky, fascist, porridge-brained man-child to leave the White House. But hey, at least The Mandalorian is back every Friday on Disney Plus, and let me tell you, every moment of Baby Yoda’s impossible adorability is a joy to behold.
Now, let’s start in on Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (the full title is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime to Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan). Rumors had been stirring when people witnessed Sacha Baron Cohen in the guise of fictional Kazakh journalist Borat Margaret Sagdiyev, then it was a few months ago when the announcement came that the sequel would drop on Amazon Prime, and that was followed up by the promotional onslaught on social media revolving around the deeply disquieting Rudy Giuliani scene. In my opinion, Borat’s return to the United States—fourteen years after the 2006 mockumentary that won Cohen a Golden Globe for Best Actor—provides the politically charged comedy gold we need in these tumultuous and outlandish times.
I should clarify that I went into this without watching the first Borat (the full name is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan). In fact, my only frame of reference for Cohen’s bold comedic instincts up to this point was when he played an extremely eccentric lemur named King Julien in the Madagascar series—an ostentatious and outrageous role that he punched up with hilarious ad-libs. It really was a stroke of genius to cast Cohen for that, considering what he’s done as Borat, Brüno, Ali G, and his personas on the one-season Showtime series Who Is America? Now that I’ve seen Borat 2, I truly appreciate Cohen’s ability to slide so effortlessly into the character of Borat with earnest charisma and an avant-garde sense of humor.
The whole point of Borat is that he’s a fish-out-of-water character whose racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and general prejudice wraps him up in the most ridiculous and offensive scenarios and brings to light the prejudices of unsuspecting Americans (typically the white, rich, conservative demographic) in his presence. In the process, Cohen exposes and lampoons the bigotry, hypocrisy, and ignorance embedded within America’s national culture, while his targets often react with mortification or—more strikingly in certain circumstances—indifference. While I think Borat 2 is an entertaining perspective on Americans who ardently advocate Trump and right-wing conspiracy theories and/or treat acts of blatant discrimination with apathy, the shock humor doesn’t offer any groundbreaking social commentary. Granted, it’s difficult to satisfyingly satirize a preposterous political climate that already feels like satire itself.
Whereas the first Borat—which had a modest budget of $18 million and grossed over $262 million at the global box office—was directed by Larry Charles, the sequel was directed by Jason Woliner, whose credits include Nathan for You, The Last Man on Earth, and Eagleheart. Another difference between the first Borat and the sequel is that the latter follows much more of a scripted plot—albeit a convoluted and ludicrous plot about Borat being released from a Kazakh gulag and shipped off to the US, whereupon he embarks on a mission, under threat of execution by his homeland, to offer Tutar (played by Maria Bakalova), his fifteen-year-old daughter, to Vice President Mike Pence. They embroil themselves in plenty of shenanigans along the way—my favorite parts being the iPhone scene in the beginning, the baby bit (I love how cleverly this pays off multiple times), the fax exchanges, the debutante ball, the masturbation speech, and crashing with the two rednecks during quarantine. On top of all that, Borat has become so famous since his last documentary that he needs to throw on disguises in order to go unrecognized. It’s further proof of Cohen’s proficiency that he’s able to authentically play Borat while Borat himself plays other characters.
Not only was I frequently laughing, cringing, or doing both simultaneously at these antics, but I was also stunned by the logistics of the production. Again, this is something that Cohen has a lot of experience with thanks to his previous undercover projects, but it’s still mind-boggling that he and his crew managed to slip their way into all these different places and events to pull brazenly bazonkers pranks. I’m assuming everyone they interacted with had to sign consent forms. I did find myself wondering if some of the scenes were staged, and when I did my research, it turned out the Jewish woman in the synagogue bit was in on the act. I don’t believe any of the other interactions were staged, though. For example, the babysitter who took care of Tutar didn’t know this was for Borat 2, and she was actually worried about Tutar for weeks afterward. Considering the lengthy—and surprisingly touching—exchanges they had, it’s incredible that the babysitter wasn’t in on it too.
Ahead of watching the movie, I’d already heard of the praise that was being heaped on Bakalova, the twenty-four-year-old Bulgarian who was one of over six hundred actresses that auditioned for the role of Tutar. Even then, I didn’t expect her to be so damn uproarious. Never breaking character and nimbly improvising in the wackiest ways, she matches up to Cohen’s skill and, believe it or not, often outshines him. Really, Borat 2 is Tutar’s story. Oddly enough, I enjoyed the sweetness of their father-daughter dynamic as well. And after they finished filming, Bakalova reportedly continued to stay in character by reporting for an alt-right news site, being admitted into the White House to interview people like Don “Rat Eyes” Jr., and attending the superspreader ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
All right, let’s break down the Rudy Giuliani scene. You could excuse his behavior by saying, “Well, he’s a bumbling old guy, he just had trouble taking off his mic,” but he was exuding creep vibes from start to finish. Even before Borat caught him in that compromising position, the sequence was utterly uncomfortable to watch, what with the world’s most coked-up vampire flirting with Tutar, touching her on the hip, and agreeing to drinks with her in the bedroom. The ominous score accompanying the scene helped to amplify the tension. I was glad to hear that Cohen was hiding in the hotel room, but Bakalova was still very brave to go through with the setup. Because the damning interview is the narrative climax, though, splashing it all over social media essentially spoiled the ending, so the impact does feel somewhat diminished at that point. At the same time, this was a highly effective PR strategy that very likely expanded Borat 2’s audience.
So those are my two cents on Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. It isn’t revolutionary comedy by any means, but I’m delighted this bizarre and obnoxious lens on the US’s political environment of 2020 exists. Talk is going around about its Oscar potential in advance of what will be an atypical awards race, and I definitely hope Bakalova and Cohen snag those shiny gold statues.
All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay healthy and stay strong.
Windup score: 87/100