Borat Subsequent Moviefilm ★★★


This has far too much (uninteresting) story and nowhere near enough pranking. Maybe it is due to the fact that Borat is too recognizable by now, or maybe it’s because it was filmed during the COVID pandemic. Most probably it is a combination of the two.

Also it is not as biting as expected, and again the reason is pretty obvious: In 2006, when Borat Sagdyev first yelled “Jagshemash!” at the US and A, he used his own misogynist, racist and homophobic views to get people to reveal their underlying prejudices. 14 years on, he returns to an America (and a world?) where anti-Semitism is growing and is more overt, fascists walk the streets in numbers and the president is overtly racist, so how can what he does have the same feel and impact?

When we first see him in this sequel, the moustachioed dope is locked up in the gulags. Kazakhstan has become a laughing stock thanks to his exploits in America and everyone hates him. A local man has stolen his house (as well as his wife) and his ashamed son even ditched the family name, changing it to Jeffrey Epstein (his hero). The only way Borat can regain his freedom, say his government jailers, is to nip back across the Atlantic and gift the most famous Kazakh being, a monkey that is Kazakhstan’s top porn star among other things, to “Vice Premier” Mike Pence. When the monkey dies in transit, he volunteers to gift his 15 year old only daughter instead. So the rest of the film follows Borat as he travels from state to state, teaching Sandra how to be an “attractive American lady”.

The results are intermittently bonkers and sporadically funny. During a rapid-fire 90 minutes, Borat sneaks into a Republican convention dressed as the President, defecates in front of Trump Tower, and buys a chocolate cake with “Jews will not replace us” written on it in icing. Now that he’s recognised on the street, the naive TV reporter is forced to disguise himself. So he spends most of the movie dressed as a foreign dignitary, cheap businessman or trailer-trash hick. Eventually, his daughter learns to question the offensive things her father has told her (like the story about a girl whose vagina swallowed her whole when she masturbated) and the pair embark on a journey of realisation. Ultimately, and disappointingly, this is actually the tale of how Borat got woke.

It’s a hand-brake turn in this character’s roadmap, for sure. When the first film came out, Baron Cohen’s shock-comedy caused outrage. Yet there was never any serious talk of reprisals. Society has moved on since then, and it’s obvious that Baron Cohen isn’t comfortable going as far over the line. Instead, he noticeably dials back the homophobia, also treading carefully with jokes at the expense of Black characters. He’s confident enough to mock celebrities though (“Kenneth West” receives short shrift for example), and he can’t resist making his Jewish heritage the butt of most gags. There are still scenes of stunning impropriety, but they are far fewer in number.

These are really sad times if Borat has been superceded by reality. It is kind of depressing to see how readily westerners accept Borat’s prejudices as their own – but in 2020, we’ve seen it all before. As with Baron Cohen’s recent political series Who Is America?, the people Borat ‘unmasks’ during the film (QAnon conspiracy theorists, pro-life doctors, sleazeball conservatives) are happy to be painted as bigots. Trump has empowered the most backwards people in society to be indifferent to public reckoning. When the punchline of your joke is so obvious, it grows old very quickly.

In 2006, entire school years snuck into cinemas just to catch a glimpse of that bushy tache. The blinkered bozo was most popular, arguably, among the young. Fast-forward to now and it’s very hard to imagine that happening with this generation, many of whom value morals above all else. Borat’s return, then, is for the fans. Those who still wail “Is nice!” and “high five” when clinking pint glasses in the pub. The kind of person who might wear a mankini to a music festival. That guy in school who shouted “Wa wa wee wa!” every time he found a penny on the playground. But many of us expected more.

My list of 2020 releases