If there are any positives to the rollercoaster called 2020, it’s the way we reconsider humanity. From the celebrations held for graduating seniors to restaurants offering free meals for health-care workers, Americans have generally stepped up to support each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the other hand, the darker, more violent side of humanity has been exposed as well. Not that it needed more exposing — the last four years have shown plenty of disturbing moments in American society. But suspicion of scientific facts and selfish attitudes toward handling the virus have brought this side back to the forefront. Not to mention a certain political candidate with a scandal or two or 50 to his name.
Perhaps we didn’t need a movie to point out these unsavory aspects of American society; the media does it on a daily basis. But Borat has never been one to wait for the socially acceptable moment to make a move.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan serves to both uphold and break down the questioning view of humanity that these turbulent years have brought. As the screenwriter, producer and the main actor, he effectively skewers American society once again.
A sequel to 2006’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the film brings back Baron Cohen’s titular character to mock Americans and U.S. culture. Released on Prime Video on Oct. 23, it comes right as the U.S. is handling both the presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic. Fittingly, Subsequent Moviefilm tackles both issues head-on, with a subplot of female empowerment to boot.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm begins in Borat Sagdiyev’s beloved country of Kazakhstan. Picking up 14 years after the original left off, he explains to the audience that his original film was not well-received in his home country. After over a decade of imprisonment, Kazakh premier Nursultan Nazarbayev (Dani Popescu) offers Borat a deal: Bring a bribe to the Republican leadership in the U.S., and he will be freed.
Borat prepares for the journey as one would for many an overseas trip: by receiving shots from a doctor and bidding goodbye to his family. In this case, however, neither the shots nor the visit go quite as planned.
Emphasis is placed on a short conversation between Borat and his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova). Borat has little interest or need for his daughter, who desperately wants to join him on his journey and become a journalist like her father. He leaves her to live in the barn, having no interest in the idea.
Of course, Tutar winds up in the U.S. with her father anyway. Her barn is upgraded to a cage and hitched to Borat’s car, and the two crisscross the country in an effort to deliver the bribe to “Mikhael Pence.”
Unlike in 2006, Baron Cohen’s satirical character is now well-known. Borat cannot encourage most Americans to engage in idiotic behavior while they question the morals and intelligence of the foreigner that eggs them on. His trademark gray suit, mustache and eager invitations to “high five!” are too distinctive.
Rather than let the act grow stale, Baron Cohen revamps the character by disguising Borat in further costumes. The addition of fat suits, wigs and plaid button-downs cleverly hide the character. His acting is quite impressive in these scenes, as he easily performs Borat acting as an American.
However, the real star of the movie is not Baron Cohen, but Bakalova. The 24-year-old’s work as Tutar stands out from the beginning, when she acts uneducated and completely dependent on her father. However, it is her growth into a confident young journalist over the course of the film that keeps Subsequent Moviefilm interesting. Even more impressive, Bakalova acts convincingly in scenes with Baron Cohen while the two communicated in different languages (neither actually speaks Kazakh).
Audiences already know Borat’s shtick, such as how he can both encourage a crowd to sing a racist song and bunk with friendly COVID-19-conspiracy believers. But Bakalova is a wildcard. She proves equally willing to dive into the cringy, disturbing and hilarious scenes of the film (sometimes at the same time). Her scene with U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in which she attempts to seduce him and seemingly nearly succeeds, has become Subsequent Moviefilm’s most controversial moment.
Though the film highlights several positive Americans — particularly Tutar’s babysitter, one of the most praised participants of the film — it ends on a critical note.
Toward the film’s conclusion, Borat and Tutar report together on Kazakhstan’s new Running of the Americans parade. While Kazakh fans cheer from behind wooden fences, massive bobblehead-like character costumes of stereotypical Americans (one wearing an All Lives Matter shirt, one a MAGA hat) sneeze and cough green goo onto the parade participants.
As Dr. Anthony Fauci’s figure comes charging in to save the day, the fans immediately begin to boo (despite the fact that each fan is wearing a mask). Karen mock-shoots Fauci with an AR-15, while MAGA Hat stomps on the vaccine shot in his hands. “The Americans are victorious in their battle against science!” Borat crows happily.
In 2020, it seems that nothing can shock us anymore. It is true that both the turbulent year and the seen-it aspect of Borat’s antics mean that the line is now harder to discern than ever before.
But thanks to a fresh plot and Bakalova’s character work, Subsequent Moviefilm manages to both highlight the best and worst of American society once again. Perhaps ominously, it has a pessimistic tone as to whether we as a country will rise above the worst of us or sink to their level.