Sacha Baron Cohen returns as the unruly Kazakh reporter in this follow-up, making an instant star of newcomer Maria Bakalova
Back in 2006, you couldn't go anywhere without hearing somebody say “my wife” or “very nice” in a bad Soviet accent. Following the release of docu-comedy Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen's absurd creation became a fully-fledged cultural phenomenon. But Borat's time at the top was relatively short-lived, the joke relying heavily on people not knowing who was hiding behind the moustache. Just when it seemed like Borat had been relegated to cultural relic status, though, he's back for this unexpected sequel, shot on the fly at the height of a pandemic. In a year that has so far been defined by shocking twists, should we be all that surprised?
Yet the belated return of Baron Cohen's most chaotic character feels oddly well-timed. Who better to skewer the state of things than the hapless Kazakh reporter who shined an irreverent light on American absurdism long before there was even a suggestion of a Trump administration?
With a scattershot approach that taps into the restless, unpredictable mood of the day, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm unravels as a very funny and haphazard summation of everything crazy about the world right now. It began shooting in secret last year, its writers forced to adjust the narrative to incorporate the ongoing pandemic, imbuing it with an undeniable urgency. In a few other ways, it does feel like old hat. But it's the kind of old hat that makes you nostalgic for something you never realised you could be nostalgic for. My wife!
Once again, “pranks” are the main focus (Baron Cohen's gift is in making people say or do terrible things on camera with a horrifying kind of casualness), though we're also presented with a loose storyline following the events of the first film. Borat, it turns out, was thrown in the gulag for fourteen years after his documentary brought shame upon the great nation of Kazakhstan. But he's given the chance to redeem himself with another trip to the “US and A” – and this time he's reluctantly taking his fifteen-year old daughter along for the ride with a plan to present her as a gift to Mike Pence.
Sequels regularly drop the ball when they mistake the introduction of a “next generation” character as an inspired way of continuing the story. Nine times out of ten the conceit falls flat. But here's the exception to the rule. The relatively unknown Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova plays Borat's feral daughter Tutar and manages to give even the immensely practiced and steely nerved Baron Cohen a run for his money. In fact, she is absolutely the finest part of this subsequent moviefilm. Since Borat is so recognisable, she's left to take the lead on many of the pranks while he dons a disguise. Best of all, Baron Cohen doesn't seem to mind Bakalova stealing his thunder (and she does, on multiple occasions).
Together the pair embark on an odd couple cross country road trip, using their faux foreignness to dupe unsuspecting Americans into revealing their innate prejudices or willingness to turn a blind eye to Borat's unsavoury comments. As Borat attempts to rehabilitate Tutar so that she's ready for Pence, their journey takes them from a nail salon to a finishing school, their best encounters exposing the underlying racism and sexism in seemingly conservative Americans (a cosmetic surgeon admits he would have sex with Tutar “if [her] father was not here”). Soon Tutar discovers that what she believes to be true of womanhood in Kazakhstan doesn't hold true in America, prompting a surprisingly endearing father-daughter arc that suggests Borat might not be as hopeless (and outdated) as he seems.
It all builds to a fascinating and shocking climax in which former New York mayor (and attorney to Donald Trump) Rudy Giuliani makes some very questionable decisions on tape, the specifics of which will remain undisclosed here for fear of spoiling the moment. But it's an ending that perfectly encapsulates what's wrong with those who sit at the top of the pile as though made impervious by their wealth and status. If this coup wasn't enough, Cohen goes on to deliver a hilarious twist in the final moments that's so brilliant in its obviousness you'll wonder why you didn't see it coming, complete with a perfectly judged cameo from a very famous actor.
Some will claim Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is an unnecessary rehash, sloppily put together, lazily executed. But there is an equal argument for this as the most definitive 2020 film yet. Baron Cohen reintroduces a character who is equally abhorrent and likeable, somehow proving Borat holds relevance fourteen years after his last outing. No Marvel superheroes in cinemas this year; but who needs Spider-Man or Thor when we have Borat and Tutar on hand to expose the real villains?
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.Where to watch