Oct 30, 2020 | LIFE | By Andrew Rodden | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
Cobbled together mid-pandemic, Sacha Baron Cohen’s newest movie “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” (directed by Jason Woliner) is as bold as it is vulgar — and boy, is it vulgar. Which is refreshing at times, as SNL-esque humor defines the state of satire these days, and satirical pieces have tended to lack any edge whatsoever.
In this sequel to “Borat” (2006), Baron Cohen again returns with the mission to expose the xenophobia and racism that plagues the U.S., though the bigotry in 2020 is way more mainstream than in 2006, giving his culturally insensitive character, Borat, a lot to report on.
Sacha Baron Cohen plays Borat, a Kazakhstani journalist who was sent to America 14 years ago to document the U.S. and ferry any cultural findings back to his home country. After being locked up in a labor camp for making Kazakhstan look foolish, he’s sent back to the U.S. to offer a peace gift to Vice President Mike Pence. That gift, of course, is Kazakhstan’s most famous chimpanzee.
However, once Borat reaches Texas via cargo ship, he discovers his teenage daughter (played by Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova) in the chimpanzee’s shipping box instead. Aware of the sickening predatory actions of many members of the global elite, Borat decides his own daughter would be a great gift for the vice president. This leads to a romp past creepy plastic surgeons, White nationalist rallies, and a global pandemic.
While not as sharp as the first “Borat,” “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” is still a hilarious satire pointing a finger at the worst things about the U.S., which also happen to be essential pillars of the status quo. The racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic, and anti-mask tendencies of America are put on full display in this mockumentary, tactfully traced to a dangerous systemic root: stupidity. However, this stupidity is not presented as an unrealistic, one dimensional aspect of personality; rather, Borat makes sure to bring out the complexity within people.
Often, we just see more and more evil under the surface (I’m looking at you, Rudy Giuliani), but in a few scenes, one can detect an underlying humanity. Late in the movie, two real-life QAnon bros take Borat under their wing and invite him into their home at the beginning of the pandemic in March.
Granted, the character of Borat is anti-Semitic and sexist (even though Baron Cohen uses Hebrew instead of Kazakh whenever he speaks to his daughter) so these two hospitable far-right dudes might have merely been comfortable around Borat’s shared xenophobia. Still, the movie shows this grey area without excusing these not-so-great QAnon guys, and I appreciate the presentation of such weird and contradictory nuance.
Punctuated with the final “Vote or be execute” message before the credits, “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” is clearly intended as a final push to get the Trump administration out of office. By depicting Trump cronies in very foolish lighting (from filming Vice President Mike Pence at February’s Conservative Political Action Conference as he falsely claimed the COVID-19 pandemic was under control, to a scene depicting Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani reaching into his pants while alone with Bakalova in a hotel room), it’s clear the messaging is this: these guys are idiots.
Yet again, Baron Cohen succeeds with his goal of exposing the blatant buffoonery and bigotry of the U.S., making “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” a movie of our current moment, and a successful one at that. The film is streaming on Amazon Prime.