Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bride to American Regime For Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan | 2020 | rated R | starring Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova | directed by Jason Woliner | 1 hr 35 mins |
The hilariously funny and surprisingly substantive Borat Subsequent Moviefilm does a few things we previously thought were impossible. After retiring the character after the smash film Borat set the world on fire, Sacha Baron Cohen, inspired by a confluence of real world events, resurrects the Kazakhstani reporter and tosses him like a match into a 2020 American tinderbox politically charged with election fever and sequestered by Coronavirus fear. He also manages to do what stand-ups, Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert have been spinning in circles for 4 years trying to do: craft a funny Donald Trump joke. He wads up every Donald Trump/Mike Pence story (both truth and fantasized conspiracy theory) from the last 4 years, dials it up to a hyperbolic extreme and hurls it back at us through his own irony-twisted lens. It’s a heavily political film that borders on propaganda, but always puts the jokes and Cohen’s creations before it’s political ends. There is a little bit in here for everyone to cringe at.
Following the release of Borat: Cultural Learnings for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan in 2006, the nation of Kazakhstan became a worldwide laughing stock and Borat Sagdiyev (Cohen) is sentenced to pound rocks for 14 years. The election of Donald Trump has inspired the Kazakhstan Premier to recruit Borat on a gift-giving mission to get in the US leader’s good graces. Stowing away in the cargo is, Tutar (Maria Bakalova) the 15 year old daughter Borat just met and the two go on a raucous, mad-capped adventure across the American south to present the girl to Vice-Premier Mike Pence – only to be slowed by the outbreak of a Coronavirus sweeping across the world.
The surprise Borat sequel is another messy, live-wire of a film that oscillates between moments of cringe and moments of hilarity. It manages to be hyper-topical and a political call to action, but with a smart story backing it all up that gives it an evergreen quality. Smartest of all is the way Cohen works Borat’s notoriety into a meta narrative that makes his new story work. Now Cohen in a Borat costume gets chased down the street by fans and he finds a version of himself at a Halloween costume store. What was the best stuff in the first film, Borat’s interactions with real people, is what comes off the most forced now, and it’s the fictional material and the scripted jokes between Borat and Tutar (Bakalova, matching Cohen beat for comic beat here) that become the film’s saving grace. Borat‘s notoriety himself has clearly influenced the film. Cohen is no longer able to get politicians or celebrities to sit down for an interview, so he backs the film up with Bakalova, puts himself in outlandish costumes for public appearances and fills in the gaps with a story that is shockingly smart, smooth and cohesive given that it was reworked on the fly based on real-world events unfolding around him. That all of this comes together in a way that works from beginning to end is kind of a miracle. This is easily Cohen’s most solidly scripted and cohesively molded film to date.
Since Borat and Bruno, Cohen’s act seems to have devolved into a single idea: The American people are all ignorant hillbillies, and pedophiles, and he is going to expose them. Where on Da Ali G Show Cohen went after public officials, celebrities and politicians who put themselves out there, now he trades in punching down at regular people who have no power at all – while publicly lecturing everyone else to not punch down, how to use social media properly and cloak himself in an invincible satire shield that allows him to be as outrageous as he wants – but would decry as hate speech in anyone else. His real-life interactions with shop owners here feel more forced than ever with him feeding them outrageous lines and seeing if they will take the “bait”. What does Cohen think we’re supposed to expect them to do? Not serve the customer? Throw him out? Call the cops? Not assume he is joking when it clearly seems to be a joke? How many people did throw him out and it wound up on the cutting room floor? How many, for example, refused to put an anti-Semitic message on a cake before he found someone who would? That, we will never know. He has the camera leer on any man around Tutor insulating that any man that might take interest in helping a young girl is a pedophile. What’s even weirder is that even though the joke is supposedly that Americans are accepting of an outlandish stereotype, Cohen himself has crafted Borat into a fully 3-dimensional character and goes to great lengths to make him convincing.
The slanted elements are obvious. Borat only goes after what it’s allowed to go after. He will never go into a Democrat National Convention. He would never try to arrange a gotcha interview with a prominent progressive politician. He would never walk into an abortion clinic with this movie’s incest gag – which really feels like it belongs in an abortion clinic. He would never again travel back to target the United Kingdom. Hell, he spends 99% of this movie south of the Mason-Dixon line, venturing into backwoods areas where time stopped and casting all of America as that cringing. The film climaxes with a heavily edited interview between Tutor and Rudy Gulianni where Cohen drops in the ADR and dials up the creepy music to maximize the manipulative fear-mongering.
So there is a heavy dose of propaganda here, and Moviefilm should be taken with a salt, but if you’re watching a Borat movie, you should be adult enough to sort out the hyperbole from the manipulation from the jokes. And it is hilarious. Cohen is like a funny Leni Riefenstahl. There are set pieces in here that are some of the biggest laughs of this year. Both the world-building the film does for it’s slant on Kazakhstan to some absolutely golden one-liners. Even when one of the pranks is not working out, Cohen’s gift for improv and Bakalova’s star-making commitment to the insanity manages to wring something worthy out of it.
Sometimes real world reactions don’t fit Cohen’s narrative (as unconvincing as the Gulianni “bust” is it also needs to happen to complete Cohen’s story arc). Then there is the film’s ending which blows up Cohen’s entire creation by giving Borat a radical change of heart. One of the things that made the first Borat such an anarchist piece of gonzo comedy art was that it offered no arcs and no life lessons, but Cohen wants to apologize for some of those jokes now and he seems to have matured as a storyteller. One of the plus sides to that is the surprising degree that the film becomes a sweet father/daughter story. In a time when everybody is playing comedy way too safe, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a straight shot of adrenaline, rough around the edges. And I don’t mean playing safe by being politically correct, the movie certainly has it’s share of political correctness, but it is less rigidly adhering to structure and demos and test screenings. Cohen is able to once again generate wonderful rampaging comic chaos out of his characters. It really, really works and I laughed a lot.