The long-awaited sequel to the 00s classic is finally out on Amazon - but will Kazakhstan's 4th best journalist still manage to make us laugh in 2020?
I first watched Borat in September 2020. A little late to the party, I’m aware, given that the divisive classic first graced screens 14 years ago. For late millennials/early generation Z, Borat was a staple of the 2000s – even before seeing the original movie, I can’t count the number of times I’d come across “my wiiife!” references and mankini Halloween costumes that caused immediate discomfort in party-goers everywhere. The original movie was synonymous with the culture of that period; a sign of the times. Foreign man with accent can’t understand American customs, comma, is inappropriate — but in spite of how simple the premise was, Borat really landed, and it was hailed as a satirical phenomenon. I was curious to see if the sequel, which was released on Amazon Prime on 23 October, would hold a candle to the movie that, arguably, defined a generation.
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm begins with the audience reuniting with Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) and the introduction of his daughter, Tutar Sagdiyev (Maria Bakalova), a 15-year-old obsessed with the idea of moving from her “shit-hole country” to the US and marrying a rich man — just like everyone’s favourite feminist, Melania. From the get-go, the film is as rife with antisemitism as the original, dropping Holocaust jokes at the two-minute mark — if you weren’t sure about the trajectory of Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm before, you sure as shit are now. There is no toning down of political incorrectness to conform to more contemporary cultural ideals, but what would be the point? Steeped in satire, the film wholly embraces its own absurdity and shock value.
Subsequent Moviefilm has a far more coherent plot than the original Borat did, feeling less like a collection of sketches held together by one Pamela Anderson-shaped string and more like an actual story of Borat learning to love his daughter. In the film, Borat is to travel to the US to gift “vice pussy-grabber” Mike Pence with a sexy monkey — but, in true Borat fashion, things don’t quite go according to plan, with his daughter Tutar smuggling herself in the crate as well (and eating the monkey while she’s at it). It’s decided that Tutar herself will be the gift delivered to Pence instead, and we get a 00s chick-flick makeover montage, with Diana Ross’ I’m Coming Out playing just for good measure.
As in the original, much of Subsequent Moviefilm relies on unaware Americans trying to figure out how to interact with Borat (and now Tutar); the film pushes the boat out regarding how much shit our two protagonists can get away with without the person on the other end of the conversation realising they’re being duped. It seems, whether it be through well-intentioned hospitality or lack of morality, that the individuals Borat and Tutar encounter have no problem adhering to their outlandish requests, often without the bat of an eye: a cake decorated with “Jews will not replace us”; a dress for Tutar that “screams no means yes”; a visit to a women’s health clinic with the request to take out the baby that Borat put inside his daughter. Incredibly enough, the advisor at the women’s health clinic condemns the practice of abortion rather than the inference of incest. Borat films remain a wonderful vessel through which to highlight the absurdity of American values.
The thing that stood out to me most in this film, however, was how current it feels. Borat was so entrenched in mid-00s humour, and so it’s a bizarre experience to watch as Subsequent Moviefilm progresses and Covid-19 becomes more of a pressing issue within the lives of the characters. Indeed, a now jarring clip shows Mike Pence at a conference (attended by Borat dressed as Donald Trump, because of course) assuring attendees that the risk of Covid-19 is low, with only 15 cases of the virus in the country. At the time of watching, there have now been 8.5m confirmed cases in the US. It’s a bit like knowing a train is about to crash but still being unable to take your eyes off the rails.
The zenith of Subsequent Moviefilm arrives with the already viral Rudy Guiliani section. After the attempt to gift Tutar to Pence fails, Borat decides he must give Tutar to another of Trump’s comrades, landing on oor pal Guiliani. Despite having seen the now infamous scene before the film’s release, this section of the film is about as uncomfortable as any Borat sketch has ever made me, mostly because of how real the situation feels. As Tutar de-mics Guiliani following an interview with him, he lays back on the bed and delves his hands into his pants in front of her. It suddenly gives the movie some real weight and is an immediate departure from the safe satirical embrace laid out by the first hour.
And hey, even if the movie flops, at least there’s extremely incriminating evidence that Guiliani’s a piece of shit. Although I think we’d already arrived at that consensus on our own.
Subsequent Moviefilm has already divided critics and fans, with some saying that the film feels like it’s been funded by the Democratic party; others saying it’s entirely jumped the shark; and a general acceptance that the novelty of the characters’ misadventures grows stale at some points. My flatmates, with whom I watched Subsequent Moviefilm, complained that the movie became slightly too self-aware in the third act, and that the satire which grounds the whole concept of Borat had been all but lost at the end.
Personally, though, I enjoyed it for what it was – you watch a Borat film to laugh, not to have your life changed. While it perhaps isn’t as instantly classic as the original, I think Subsequent Moviefilm is considerably smarter; Sacha Baron Cohen’s ability to resurrect Borat, and so seamlessly apply his whole character to the hellscape that is this year, is both admirable and genuinely enjoyable. A Borat sequel isn’t the hero 2020 needed, but it’s the hero that 2020 deserves.
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