In 2007 Sacha Baron Cohen announced that he was retiring his character of Borat. With the release of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2016) having polarised the world with its jarring satire, his character had become a household name and the ability to catch unsuspecting people off guard had become impossible. Because of this, he would go on to create new characters for films like The Dictator and Grimsby.
With a short time frame of fanfare, Amazon Prime revealed a trailer for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm merely weeks ahead of its release, promising more outrageous antics from Kazakhstan’s fourth most popular journalist. The question begged, how can Cohen maintain his provocative brand of humour in a world that looks every different to that of the previous film? The answer: by indulging his own personal politics.
Of course, by now most people are familiar with Cohen and his tactics, and so in order to hoodwink his subjects, he resorts to tacky disguises and elaborate setups. Having been imprisoned by his government for disgracing their nation in the original film, Borat is sent back to America to make amends by offering up his 15-year-old daughter to vice president Mike Pence. Their journey has them hop-scotching across the country in a similar fashion to before, but with a complete absence of surprise.
There is no question that Cohen is a comedic genius and his brand of humour has been incredibly effective in illustrating ignorances. He addresses issues of prejudice and bigotry by attacking them head-on, and the result is historically gobsmacking. In this instance, his attempt to recreate his winning formula falls short of the intended outcome.
With the narrative’s gotcha flag-points of Borat 2 being more staged (and less voyeuristic), it’s difficult to determine who is in on the joke and who isn’t, and where the pretence of the original film’s deception was of an international film crew exploring American culture, this sequel hasn’t the luxury of a convincing excuse. Director Jason Woliner (The Last Man on Earth) has his camera intrude on every uncomfortable interaction, making it impossible for us to buy into the concept of everyone being caught off guard.
That is not to say that Borat 2 isn’t hilarious, because it is. There’s a strange comfort in revisiting such a beloved character and Cohen has managed to elaborate, and in fact, evolve him to a point of awakening. Of course, to have Borat come to certain social realisations does seem disingenuous to the character, and yet there can’t have been any foreseeable ways for Cohen to have produced a sequel otherwise. The result feels less theatrical and much more like a follow up to his 2019 TV series Who Is America?.
Cohen slips back into Borat’s famous beige suit with total ease and isn’t shy of lunacy, only this time ’round he seems less offensive and far more cautious of confrontation. Unlike the first film there are no heavy interactions with extremists, nor are any of the subjects pushed to breaking points, and with the production taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic the limitations of Borat’s interplay are obvious. That being said, the now highly-publicised finale involving a certain politician will certainly be raising eyebrows.
Perhaps the one undeniable triumph of the film is Maria Bakalova’s performance as Borat’s teenage daughter, Tutar. She ought to share equal credit with Cohen because not only does she keep up with his improvisational wit, but she often wipes the floor with him. Her interactions with feminists and fundamental Christians are brave and jaw-dropping, and one particular sequence involving a fertility dance highlights her absolute commitment to Cohen’s vision.
It’s great to see Borat again and there’s a lot of fun to be had in this unexpected sequel. But let’s hope that this is where we leave him. The world has changed, and while my personal intolerance for political correctness motivates me, I struggle to see how this character can survive today’s world without sacrificing the very thing that makes him a valuable spotlight on social taboos. And what a shame that the very people who Cohen’s humour represents, could be among those that misunderstand the irony and cancel his entire schtick (that, or they’ll sing his praises without acknowledging what’s been sacrificed to appease their sensitivities).
‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.