Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)
Written by Peter Baynham, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Swimer, and Nina Pedrad
Directed by Jason Woliner
My experience was seeing the first Borat film was one of those never able to forget things. I was living in Bellingham, Washington at the time, and a group of friends went to the theater on opening night, so the place was packed. We were all familiar with Da Ali G Show and Borat, but we had no idea what we were in store for with this movie. The sometimes subtle other times explosively over the top manner in which Sacha Baron Cohen skewered American culture was unlike anything I’d see in a movie theater before. I would expect it from indie movies but not from a studio picture. Of course, we couldn’t stop quoting the picture for hours after we left the theater, and eventually, because of cultural overuse, I sort of began to dislike the movie. Having revisited Borat since I think it is a seminal work of satire, one of the most brutal takedowns of the United States at the time.
The sequel finds Kazhakstanian journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Cohen) forced to work in a labor camp after his first movie humiliated his motherland. While Borat was out of the loop, big things happened in the United States, mainly Obama’s presidency and now Trump. The Kazak premier wants to curry favor with Trump after seeing the president cozy up to Putin and Kim Jong Un. It is decided to deliver the Minister of Culture and top pornstar Johnny the Monkey to Vice-President Pence, who is seen as the “top pussyhound” of America. There’s a snag when Borat returns to his home village to find his sons have turned on him, and he has a fifteen-year-old daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova). Borat is totally disinterested in her and begins his journey across the ocean to the United States. Of course, Tutar tags along, so the two get into a series of misadventures trying to enter the inner circle of white American conservative power.
I do not think the Borat sequel is as good as the original. It is still a hilarious movie, but the overall picture feels more rushed and rough around the edges. I think the COVID-19 outbreak has both positive & negative effects on the film’s production. It’s a fantastic story beat that allows Borat to engage with people who proudly share their ignorance of science and how swiss-cheese addled their brains have become from right-wing conspiracies.
There is also a shocking amount of white people who don’t blink an eye when confronted with abominable things. An anti-abortion crisis pregnancy clinic pastor wants to just not talk about the incest Borat implies by accident (his daughter swallows a plastic baby decoration from a cupcake) and just stop them from seeking out a way to terminate a false pregnancy. A bakery employee inscribes, “The Jews will not replace us” on a cake without a second word. A hardware store employee calmly answers Borat’s questions about using a propane tank to gas gypsies.
The big question is, “Are these people okay with hearing this talk, or have they been trained to be so submissively polite by their culture that won’t speak up?” I think it’s more the latter which doesn’t soften the blow. With the separation and subsequent imprisonment of Central American refugees at our borders in concentration camps, it is clear a large fraction of our population has no problem with these practices.
The shining star of the picture is Maria Bakalova’s Tutar. Because Borat is so well known, a fact addressed as soon as he arrives in the States, Tutar is used to engage with people who might otherwise see the prank. Bakalova has incredible comic timing and can keep up with Cohen, the two beautifully playing off each other. Throughout the picture, Tutar is transformed into a clone of the Fox News anchorman-type. Apparently, deleted scenes are being released, and at one point, Tutar buddied up with a reporter from the right-wing propaganda network OAN and toured the White House. Cohen has said there were zero security checks or covid tests done before letting an obvious foreign reporter walkthrough secure areas of the building.
While I laughed a lot and loved everything Bakalova did, I ultimately felt like this movie pulled its punches too much. It’s probably my own personal rancorous feelings about the United States at the moment, but I think Cohen should have gone harder at the willfully ignorant groups of people in our country. There’s a brief segment at the right-wing rally in Portland that got reported about, but it feels very rushed. I think my own desire is to see the anti-maskers, QAnon types just brutally humiliated in the most extensive public venue possible because of the profound level of harm they are doing to the United States. I know some people don’t think shame is the route to go, but for these particular groups, I think dragging them through the mud and shaming others from jumping on the conspiracy bandwagon could be sufficient. In my own life, my mother has succumbed to the QAnon mind worm and cut ties eleven months ago, without speaking to her since. Maybe it’s a little too personal for me, and that’s why I felt like Borat could have buried the knife deeper.