Bil’s rating (out of 5): B
Original Title: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
United Kingdom/USA, 2020. Amazon Studios, Four by Two Films. Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Nina Pedrad, Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern. Cinematography by Luke Geissbuhler. Produced by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Monica Levinson. Music by Erran Baron Cohen. Production Design by David Saenz de Maturana. Costume Design by Erinn Knight. Film Editing by Craig Alpert, Michael Giambra, James Thomas.
The 2006 comedy that brought Sacha Baron Cohen‘s pranking to North America and made him a global superstar is also the last time he really got away with his shenanigans; by the time he dressed up as Bruno, he might have still fooled some of his targets but his audience was no longer the helpless prey who were previously shocked, delighted and amazed at what his Kazakhstanian reporter character got up to. His Who Is America series only played to the converted, so it was only a matter of time before he would return to his most successful venture and foist upon us a second collection of Borat’s wild adventures, once again ridiculing the stupidity of prejudice by drawing unsuspecting people into his filmed pranks and baiting them into revealing their most inappropriate opinions and behaviours. This time, he performs the character under much more heated circumstances, as conservative politics have reached a high point in Trump’s America and the stakes for Cohen are very different (and, indeed, security was a greater concern for him as well, there are a few scenes where he’s wearing a bulletproof vest under his costume).
Borat is sent by the government of Kazakhstan to America to give Mike Pence the gift of their most beloved celebrity monkey, an assignment meant to help him atone for the embarrassment he brought on the nation with his first hit film. Unfortunately, the animal dies en route, but it just so happens that Borat’s ambitious daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) stowed away in the same crate in the hopes of seeing America and chasing the dream life of her idol Melania. Giving her a makeover and deciding to make her the vice-president’s gift instead of the dead monkey, Borat takes Tutar along as they travel through Texas in search of their contact, visiting dress shops, infiltrating a father-daughter coming out ball and attending an anti-mask country music concert (it’s the first major film to include the Covid-19 pandemic in its narrative).
Going into a political rally dressed as Donald Trump actually ruins Borat’s chances of meeting Pence, so he settles for the next best thing, sending his daughter to interview Rudy Giuliani and offer herself as a prize to him (and the results have to be seen to believed).
The film is actually an experience of absolute torture, the one saving grace the surprise expertise of Bakalova, who keeps up with Cohen every step of the way. Every time you think he’s setting her up to break character, she goes a step further and keeps the balloon up in the air with a seamless confidence that provides the film’s few laughs. There’s no denying the brilliance of Cohen’s commitment to his performance art, including living with two Trump supporters and not breaking character as Borat for five whole days, but the world that he’s making this movie in is a wholly different one than the one he dazzled the first time around, we were not staring into our smartphones and arguing over the minute details of every topic, buzz word and controversy twenty-four-seven in 2006 as we are now.
It’s somewhat obnoxious of him to think that no one can understand what’s wrong with America unless he pulls tasteless stunts like having his daughter menstruate all over herself in front of unsuspecting guests (yes, it’s a natural and wonderful phenomenon, and no, even though a father-daughter dance is outmoded and creepy, they still didn’t deserve it).
Very little of it is actually funny and his choice of targets is generally questionable, for while I have no sympathy for anyone captured expressing bigoted opinions, and certainly Giuliani as the final act needs none of my consideration, it’s hard to avoid the plain and ugly fact that Cohen is punching down on well-meaning store clerks who don’t want to be rude to a customer on camera.
Academy Award Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Maria Bakalova); Best Adapted Screenplay
Golden Globe Awards: Best Picture-Musical/Comedy; Best Actor-Musical/Comedy (Sacha Baron Cohen)
Nomination: Best Actress-Musical/Comedy (Maria Bakalova)