22 Oct REVIEW – ‘Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm’ is a worthy sequel that matches everything offered in the original
Just when you thought you’d seen the last of everyone’s favourite mankini-clad Kazakhstani reporter with a penchant for causing all sorts of chaos, Sacha Baron Cohen resurrects his iconic Golden Globe-winning role from the hinterland of the pop culture zeitgeist to remind us all why we fell in love with Borat Sagdiyev. Filmed in total secrecy over the last few months, Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm* has genuinely dropped from nowhere at just the right time.
Not only is the entire world in dire need of a good chuckle (which this surprise sequel serves up in spades), there’s that little thing called the U.S. election on the horizon. In a bid to provide an antidote to the usual politically-charged cinematic fare that generally arrives just before Election Day (I’m looking at you, Michael Moore), Baron Cohen delivers a biting satire that says more about the state of America than practically anything else this year.
14 years after the events of the first film (yes, it’s really been that long), all is not well for intrepid journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Baron Cohen). After his adventures around America turned the reporter into an unexpected star and resulted in the world laughing at Kazakhstan, the country fell into economic ruin. Exports of potassium and pubis plummeted and the blame was laid squarely at the feet of Borat, leading to his banishment from journalism and a life of manual labour.
Desperate to appease America’s new leader, Donald Trump and restore the country’s reputation, the Kazakstan Ministry of Information offers Borat a chance at redemption by virtue of journeying back to the “US&A” to present Trump’s second-in-command, Mike Pence with a special gift. After a quick shot of gypsy tears for protection, Borat slips back into his trademark grey suit and sets off on a 22-day cargo ship journey to the land of the free.
There’s just one slight problem; Borat’s estranged daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalovva) has stowed away inside a shipping container to join her father on his tour of America. It seems Tutar wants to emulate her idol Melania Trump (who’s depicted via a Disney-like animated film detailing her rise to affluence) and find a rich American husband of her own. Seizing on the moment, Borat makes the decision to offer his daughter as his country’s gift to “Vice Premiere” Pence, but not before a quick makeover to turn her into a desirable offering now known as Sandra Jessica Parker Sagdiyev.
Much like its predecessor, Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm also finds its hapless titular star venturing around America to meet with numerous unsuspecting interview subjects, resulting in lashings of uproarious misunderstanding-based situational comedy. However, without the gift of anonymity Baron Cohen enjoyed during the production of the first film, he’s occasionally required to adopt several disguises in the sequel to avoid blowing his cover, while still maintaining the trademark Borat cadence and characterisations.
We critics have been specifically asked not to reveal the “big moments” of Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm or the identities of those who’ve unwittingly found themselves in this mockumentary, and for good measure. Every viewer should enter this sequel as cold as possible on the hilarious delights Baron Cohen, a team of eight screenwriters, and director Jason Woliner have crafted. Just know nothing can prepare you for what they’ve delivered, particularly a riotous third act that genuinely left me in hysterics. I haven’t laughed this hard at a film in years and it’s certainly the most unabashed joy I’ve felt during this dumpster fire of a year.
Once again, Baron Cohen’s alter-ego manages to provide a false sense of security for his subjects to reveal plenty about themselves, and, in the process, America itself, including one of Trump’s closest allies, who finds himself in a jaw-dropping compromising position that’s sure to make headlines when this film debuts. We know America is currently more sharply divided than ever before, and Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm deftly exposes the division over everything from wearing masks (COVID-19 enters the narrative mid-way during filming) to abortion rights.
If you thought it was uncomfortable viewing watching a bunch of drunken frat boys bemoan the end of slavery in the first film, get ready for an anti-abortion doctor attempting to rationalise the right to life of a baby born from incest. The film is littered with numerous cringe-worthy moments at a series of locations including a Georgian debutante ball, the Conservative Political Action Conference, and a pro-Trump rally where practically every attendee openly carries an AK-47 slung over their shoulder. It’s a miracle Baron Cohen not only made it through filming unidentified but that he made it out alive.
At one point, Borat couch-crashes at the home of two conspiracy theorists who’ve drunk the Trump Kool-Aid and believe every QAnon piece of nonsense like coronavirus being a hoax or that Hillary Clinton runs a pedophilic sex trafficking ring from a pizzeria in Washington D.C. For all the drivel spewing out of their mouths, it’s clear they’re the product of a system of lies that has warped their view of both politics and society. While the film doesn’t excuse their behaviour, it does shine a light on the inescapable fact these were once good people who’ve been manipulated by propaganda designed to spread fear and paranoia.
Where Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm differentiates itself from the first instalment pertains to a shift in its narrative focus. With the introduction of Tutar, played superbly by scene-stealer Bakalova, the sequel is ultimately a surprisingly sweet father-daughter tale that actually has much to say about women’s liberation. Born in an oppressive environment where she’s been fed government lies about everything from her body to her capabilities, Tutar experiences an awakening when she begins to find her own strength and discovers dreams that extend beyond being someone’s trophy wife.
While the misleading information Tutar has been fed by her manipulative government is naturally ridiculously exaggerated (like her vagina containing razor-sharp teeth that will rip off her arm if she attempts self-gratification), it’s inescapable the parallel Baron Cohen is drawing between the autocratic fictionalised regime of Kazakstan and the dictatorship Trump is pushing America towards. It’s admirable the sequel offers something different with Bakalova standing as almost a co-lead to Baron Cohen, but the film lags slightly in the second act when it focuses too heavily on Tutar and loses sight of the titular star for what feels like an eternity.
As we can’t journey into spoiler territory, all that’s left to say is Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm wraps up with a third act that contains one of the funniest sequences ever committed to film. Without giving anything away, Baron Cohen has interwoven the coronavirus pandemic into the sequel in such an ingenious way that it’s the kind of sequence that would have left a packed cinema crowd rapturously applauding. It’s a shame we won’t get to enjoy this film as a communal experience, but at least you can laugh as loud as you want in the privacy of your own lounge room.
With its supreme mix of absurd comedic moments and potent commentary on the current tragic state of America, Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm is a worthy sequel that matches (and occasionally exceeds) everything offered in the original. Comedy sequels rarely work, but Baron Cohen has somehow disproven the theory that lightning can’t strike twice. Every bit as hysterically funny and shockingly outrageous as its predecessor, this is precisely the film we need right now. And, with the presidential election less than two weeks away, it’s a booming call to arms to save America from itself before it’s too damn late.
*Please note, the film is also technically known as both Borat: Gift of Pornographic Monkey to Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence to Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan and Borat: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, but one thought it best to use its shortened title for the sake of brevity.
Distributor: Amazon Studios
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova
Director: Jason Woliner
Producers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Monica Levinson
Screenplay: Peter Baynham, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Swimer
Cinematography: Luke Geissbühler
Production Design: David Saenz de Maturana
Costume Design: Erinn Knight
Music: Erran Baron Cohen
Editing: Craig Alpert, Michael Giambra, James Thomas
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Date: 23rd October 2020 (Worldwide)