Amid increasing polarization, the rise of bigotry, radicalization, thinly-veiled corruption in government and actual racism in America, it was the perfect time for “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” to be made.
A sequel to the 2006’s “Borat,” which starred Sacha Baron Cohen as Khazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev on a trek through America, documenting absurd interactions with real people, “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” has no shortage of targets this time around. Watching the two films back-to-back, it was interesting to see the thinly-veiled bigotry Baron Cohen exposed in the first film come front-and-center in “Subsequent Moviefilm.” It really highlights how the exact conditions that led to the rise of President Donald Trump were always there, just people were much more polite about their racism during President George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House.
Borat 2 follows the same format as the first film, in which Baron Cohen interviews real people as the fictional Borat, who is a racist misogynist anti-Semite whom his subjects are told is foreign and has little to no understanding of American culture, and doesn’t know any better. And his interactions go one of three ways: either they reject Borat in disgust; they go along with the ignorant things he says, exposing their own ignorance in the process; or they try to take steps to educate Borat that what he is either saying or doing is wrong. In a nutshell, “Borat” exposes bigotry by performing bigotry, often while engaging in cheap shock humor that oftentimes goes too far.
This is definitely not a film for everyone, and while I feel like “Subsequent Moviefilm” is an improvement from the original, I can’t confidently say that everything in it was fit to put on film. There’s a scene where Borat talks with a Holocaust survivor dressed in racist garb that is in particular bad taste, and a ballroom scene that I honestly don’t want to describe in this review that could have been left on the cutting room floor with no ill effect on the film.
Yet there are scenes that are absolutely great, like Borat’s infiltration of CPAC. Azamat, Borat’s producer, was killed off in between films, so his partner for much of “Moviefilm” is his teenaged daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova). Much of the film involves Borat trying to gift his daughter to Vice President Mike Pence, then former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in order to restore honor to his nation after the first “Borat” film made it a laughingstock. During his CPAC stunt he comes in dressed in a Klansman costume to get into the conference “unnoticed”, and it’s amazing that all he gets is a few weird looks, which proves that Baron Cohen’s stunt bothered the event’s attendees, but not enough to prompt action.
He later takes over a Trump rally, getting the crowd the chant about injecting former President Barack Obama and journalists with “the Wuhan flu,” and to “chop up journalists like the Saudis do.” It’s shocking how easy it was for Borat, disguised as a Trump supporter, to push them to repeat such awful phrases, but perhaps less so when considering the president himself has joked to his supporters about harming journalists and people he doesn’t like.
But the centerpiece of “Moviefilm” is its Giuliani “gotcha”, in which the former mayor is caught on tape saying that China manufactured the coronavirus, joking with Tutar, who poses as a far-right journalist, about eating bats, and later meeting her in a backroom for a drink while he is caught undoing his pants (Note: Giuliani claims that he was unfastening a microphone and that the whole thing was a fabrication, but it’s pretty obvious what he was doing when you see the film). It’s also worth noting that, during the scene, Baron Cohen was hiding inside a concealed wardrobe and evaded a security sweep. None of those are great things for Giuliani, who is a lawyer to the president. It proves all you have to do to get close to people in the president’s inner circle is construct a convincing-looking far right website that supports the administration, and that’s about it. It’s a serious but real consequence of having a president that openly supports conspiracy theories, as the people who run the websites that peddle that misinformation are not privy to any of the standards professional journalists are.
The original “Borat” was a blend of unscripted scenes with real people and scripted scenes with actors, and “Subsequent Moviefilm” balances the two much better. The first film lacked structure, rushing a hastily constructed third act and conclusion that felt very unsatisfying. “Moviefilm” has a clear direction, and Tutar compliments Borat much better than Azamat did in the first film. Tutar and Borat learn, grow, and change in this film, something that I felt there wasn’t enough of in Borat’s previous outing; he is more or less the same person from start to finish, despite his adventure in America. In “Moviefilm”, Borat starts to learn that his government is lying to him through the blatant lies present in America, and he starts to become a better person, though he doesn’t completely abandon his prejudices.
It’s a lot easier for me to recommend “Subsequent Moviefilm” than its predecessor, mostly because what it reveals about America is more profound this time around, there are less bad gags and offensive content whose only purpose is to offend, and it has a better handle of when it’s best to use scripted scenes for plot structure and where to insert its real-world gags.
This film still goes way too far with a few stunts, its Holocaust survivor and ballroom scene being the worst ones, and despite Baron Cohen’s satirical intentions with them, I have to condemn them.
Overall, “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” is a great comedy that utilizes both scripted and real-life stunts with ordinary people that highlights the absurdity of our times, with a few very noticeable missteps that for some viewers, will be enough to shut the film off and never come back to it again.
If you liked the first movie, you’ll probably like this one. It’s definitely a film that requires a strong content warning before watching.
“Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” gets an 8/10