It’s hard to believe it’s been fourteen years since “Borat” hit theaters becoming a cultural sensation and holding a magnifying glass to countless ridiculous realities of America at the time. The idea of a sequel always seemed outlandish especially since star Sasha Baron Cohen and his alter ego for the film have become recognizable and iconic in the years since. But as one of the few bright spots of 2020 we have, indeed, received a sequel: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”. Now more than ever a “Borat” sequel is probably most appropriate with America in the midst of some of its darkest and most divisive times since the civil rights movement or even the Civil War. There’s more ridiculousness and chaos in this country now than ever before and we now have a comedy sequel that once again forces us to take a look at what we have become and GOD is it fantastic! “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” may not be the sequel or movie that we wanted or deserved in 2020, but it’s one we truly needed to get by and thankfully it gives us everything we expect and more.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”, which I’m just going to call “Borat 2” for most of this review, once again stars Sasha Baron Cohen as the titular Borat who has been shamed since his first outing to America 14 years prior as the film has humiliated Kazakhstan on the global stage. Once again Borat is instructed to visit the U.S. by Premier Nazarbayev (Dani Popescu), the leader of Kazakhstan, in order to deliver a prized monkey to President Donald Trump in hopes of earning his favor. After arriving in America Borat discovers his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) stowed away with the monkey and the two travel across 2020 America in hopes of meeting the controversial president, encountering small town business owners, Borat fans, right-wing extremists, and all kinds of American stereotypes along the way all recorded from real, unscripted encounters in the same manner as the previous film.
First off, if you’ve read this blog you know comedy is NOT my favorite genre. While there are plenty of comedy films I enjoy, it’s probably my least favorite overall as many films settle for the lowest common denominator and cliches resulting in bland, forgettable messes. That is why it’s a huge credit to “Borat 2” that I had to pause the movie no less that 15 times (yes, I counted) over the course of its roughly 1.5-hour run time to laugh my ASS off! Truth be told the original “Borat” wasn’t a favorite of mine back in the day. I graduated high school in 2007 so in 2006 when the film was popular and I didn’t have the ability to see movies in theaters since I didn’t have a car I didn’t understand what made it so special and even after watching it I failed to see a lot of the humor. Clearly my tastes have evolved in 14 years and not only did I enjoy the original a lot more after rewatching it to prep for the sequel, but the follow-up was even MORE enjoyable from my perspective probably because in a year as chaotic as 2020 poking fun at our societal flaws and the way we have all acted feels more appropriate than ever before.
It should be said that if Sasha Baron Cohen and his style of comedy isn’t for you this movie won’t entertain. There are also a lot of racial stereotypes and other elements borrowed from the first movie that haven’t aged so well in 14 years but remain for this film to maintain continuity. You should NOT go into this movie without understanding what you’re in for…or maybe you should as there are too many uncomfortable surprises around the corner that I can’t bring myself to spoil here. What I will say is that “Borat 2” pulls absolutely no punches in exposing the strange realities of American culture in the 2020s. From the hypocrisy of right wing conspiracy theories to our obsession with technology, cultural stereotypes, the state of politics in the world including way too many shots at the Trump administration to count, and even timely references to the COVID-19 pandemic “Borat 2” serves as a comedic microcosm of America today doing what “Borat” did for the 2000s by permanently capturing our flaws for years to come so that, hopefully, years down the road we can look at ourselves and find even MORE humor in this film.
Aside from the shock humor, political satire and other comedic elements there’s also strangely a lot more heart injected this time around. While the previous “Borat” film was more centered on its unique brand of comedy, “Borat 2” takes a few moments to break up the humor especially in its exploration of the relationship between Borat and his daughter Tutar, who is played by an excellent Maria Bakalova. Cohen and Bakalova have awesome chemistry on screen and compliment each other perfectly in their fearless attempts to shock the general public in their escapades. Bakalova essentially serves as this movie’s Azamat as Ken Davitian didn’t return for the sequel. It allows Cohen to further humanize Borat as more than just a daft racist and in a way makes his a symbol of our capacity for change and personal evolution as his growing bond with Tutar forces him to reassess his perspectives and appreciate a bond he never before thought was worth treasuring. It’s kind of nice to see such a tender element of such a ridiculous movie take center stage.
Cohen’s lack of cynicism also helps drive home the heart of the film. While a lot of the racial stereotypes and shock humor will rub people the wrong way it’s pretty clear that Cohen went into this project with a little more tact and understanding than the previous film where he was just relentlessly over the top. At one point Borat finds himself quarantined with two stereotypical redneck types who believe in right wing conspiracies and while we can’t help but laugh at them, seeing how they bond with Borat despite his eccentricities and even help him bond with his daughter is kind of touching and humanizing to the hard core right who take a lot of hits throughout the rest of the film. There’s also a moment where Tutar interacts with a group of conservatives women and while the scene is uncomfortable it’s kind of neat to see how accepting these women are in spite of Tutar’s eccentricities. Another scene sees Borat talk with a Holocaust survivor in a moment Cohen famously stated was the one scene where he broke character. While this scene stirred controversy, the woman, Judith Dim Evans, provides a nice message to the audience about persevering through the worst times in a year where the world seems to be falling apart. These nice touches of humanity help balance the chaos and make “Borat 2” more than just a raunchy comedy, giving it a wider range of subtexts than the previous movie provided in my humble opinion. This isn’t just an examination of everything that makes us bad, there’s also some genuine exploration of the things that make us all good.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is definitely not for everyone as it pushes the boundaries of tasteful comedy and does admittedly continue some of the more dated stereotypes and race-related jokes that were a little more accepted in the 2000s. Beyond that though it’s absolutely fantastic. It takes a lot for a comedy movie to leave such an impact on me but this film accomplished that, easily earning my vote for the best comedy of 2020 and one of the best comedies of the past few years. In a year with so much controversy and so much uncertainty, this is the film we all needed to see not just to add some much needed humor to our lives but also to force us to take a look at what we have become in a short 14 years. Destined to be a lightning rod for controversy, divisiveness and butthurt naysayers who can’t take a joke, “Borat 2” is a timely, hilarious and frankly important sequel that will hopefully forever serve as one of the most enduring time capsules of a dark year in American history.