Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Sacha Baron Cohen claimed to have retired the character of Borat, an ignorant Kazakh journalist, in 2007. Baron Cohen used Borat to skewer American culture by portraying his fictional creation in very real situations with real people who didn’t know Borat was an act. His sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and complete inability to understand American customs was used to expose the bigotry that exists in this country. Due to great success! of his 2006 movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the character was too recognizable, thus the gag would no longer work. However, seeing a need for his specific brand of social commentary, Baron Cohen has brought him back for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (streaming on Amazon Prime).
It is a brutal satire, sometimes funny, sometimes offensive, that attempts to say that, though we dress our values up well, we are not much better at things like treating women with respect or being accepting of different viewpoints than the inhabitants of Borat’s home country of Kazakhstan (fictionalized as the home of sex criminals and incest). It is depressing how persuasively the movie makes this point.
As the story opens, Borat, who has been in prison since the release of the first movie, is let go by his country’s Premier. He is sent back to America to deliver a present to Vice President Mike Pence in an effort to bring Kazakhstan into the good graces of President Trump. His fifteen-year-old daughter tags along, allowing Baron Cohen to make fun of sexism even more this time around, in addition to religion, social media, technology, politics, conspiracy theorists and American culture in general.
The idea that Borat is too well known to do his schtick actually becomes a plot point. When he first returns to America, he gets bombarded with his own catchphrases as he walks down the street. So, to preserve his anonymity, he disguises himself. Borat, wearing a wig, fake beard, hat and what he thinks are traditional American clothes, doing a terrible American accent, brings another layer to his cluelessness. It also adds to the true subject of these movies: people seeing his bigotry and either saying nothing or treating it like it is okay.
The far right is certainly Borat 2’s biggest target. Throughout its entirety, he takes shots at Trump, Pence, Rudy Giuliani and conspiracy-minded Trump supporters. What he is really digging into is how accepting too many have been of the hatred that has become distressingly commonplace in this country, especially over the last four years. Borat’s casual misogyny, such as when he takes his daughter to the store to buy her a cage, is not even questioned. Some of his stunts are bigger and bolder here (his trip to CPAC or what he does with Giuliani), but it was the smaller moments (his visit to a bakery) that left me worried about the state of America.
Borat 2 is vicious in its attacks on American ignorance. That was expected. What is a surprise is how respectful it is to those who try to show Borat the error of his ways. The woman he hires to babysit his daughter is so caring in the way she informs her that everything she has been taught about female inferiority is a lie that it shines a light on the cruelty of everyone who doesn’t react when he talks about giving his daughter away as a child bride. There is also a scene in a synagogue where his hatred of Jews is disarmed by the kindness of a Holocaust survivor. These scenes illustrate that, though most of the running time is spent ripping apart the hateful, there is still goodness left in this world, inside those brave enough to step forward and say “hey, that isn’t right” when they see intolerance.
Sacha Baron Cohen is incredibly quick-witted and came up with some really funny stuff. There are several laugh out loud sequences in both Borats. Yet I remain troubled by the idea that he is perpetuating what he is mocking. When Borat spews hateful things about Jews or talks about how women have tiny brains, are they laughing at his idiocy? Or do they think it’s funny to believe such awful rhetoric? It is clear to me that Baron Cohen is using this guy’s thoughtless prejudices to bring out the thoughtless prejudices of the people he interacts with. That might not be clear to every viewer. But there’s nothing I, or even the filmmaker, can do about that. I can only focus on how I felt, which was entertained and provoked. Sacha Baron Cohen has made a remarkably of-the-moment comedy that is hilarious, disturbing, offensive and, in the end, maybe a little hopeful. Very nice!
3¾ out of 5
Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat
Maria Bakalova as Tutar Sagdiyev
Directed by Jason Woliner
Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Anthony Hines, Erica Rivinoja, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer and Jena Friedman