It’s been fourteen years since Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan hit theaters and changed the movie landscape. The mockumentary shocked audiences, was banned in several locations, led to multiple lawsuits, and instantly solidified Sacha Baron Cohen as perhaps the most daring filmmaker in the business. Cohen’s ambush tactics on his unknowing, non-actor participants and his ability to accelerate situations to the most absurd comedic extremes has yet to be matched – not even his subsequent mockumentaries Brüno and Who Is America? were able to quite reach the heights that Borat achieved.
Love him or hate him, the constantly quoted, ridiculously anti-Semitic, and radically sexist Borat Sagdiyev exposed the wildly xenophobic and jingoistic nature of the United States and its citizens in some of the most hilarious ways possible. The dark underbelly of the country had begun bubbling to the surface at that time in 2006, and Cohen explored what exactly was making America tick while the shock of 9/11 and its aftermath were still fresh, well into George W. Bush’s second term and the invasion of Iraq. 2018’s Who Is America? returned to the same well after the nightmare of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the early days of the hurricane that is the Trump administration. By this point, issues of extreme nationalism and white supremacy were no longer as much of a laughing matter, but Cohen still managed to eek out some humor by humiliating some of the more gullible among the deplorable.
Only two years later and these problems have only grown in scope, influence, and outrageousness, propelled by the ongoing misinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories that spread like wildfire across social media and even creep into major news outlets. Perhaps that makes it the perfect time for Borat to make a triumphant return in this follow-up, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. But at a time when parody and satire have pretty much been killed off by the absurdity of real life, where even a deadly virus is politicized and a depressing number of people believe the Earth to be flat and/or the Holocaust to be a lie, what could Cohen (in his uniquely vulgar and offensive way) possibly have left to say about America, and why should we bother to listen?
Borat 2 keeps its plot as thin as the first, serving mainly as a loose framework to place its unscripted vignettes into. Borat’s beloved home country of Kazakhstan has been diminished after the release of the original film turned them into the laughing stock of the world. To restore his nation’s honor (and to save his own skin), Borat is given a mission: Deliver Johnny the Monkey, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture and number one porno star, to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (who is described as a “pussy hound”). The monkey doesn’t end up working out, so Borat’s daughter, Tutar (Irina Nowak) takes his place as the gift for America’s most famous ladies man. 15 year-old Tutar, kept like livestock her entire life, dreams of life in a better, golden cage like her hero, Melania Trump (the “happiest wife in the world”), but her time in America begins to expose her to different options and lifestyles for women, much to her father’s chagrin.
There’s a much clearer focus in this film than Cohen’s usual work, thanks to the character of Tutar and a staggering, fearless performance from Nowak, who shows that she can go toe-to-toe with Cohen at even his most elevated levels of cringe-inducing antics. The film takes gender roles to their most extreme, playing off the submissiveness of daughters to fathers who treat them like property, and how the people of America – a nation that chastises the barbaric sexism of other countries – are not as above that as they might like to think they are. Borat’s absurd views on women and their place in society is never met with much pushback from the people he meets, old rich men shamelessly fawn over his teenage daughter – one even names his price for her – and an Instagram influencer lets Tutar know that she needs to be seen as weak if she wants men to like her.
There are other glimpses into the terrifyingly dumb American psyche like Borat receiving high fives when mentioning the horrific treatment of immigrants, ordering an offensive cake without a hitch, or a couple of QAnon truthers telling Borat – without a hint of irony – that his beliefs are just baseless conspiracy theories. But the focal point remains on the treatment of women, and it becomes a surprisingly profound aspect among the ridiculous stunts and obscene jokes. The film also reveals itself to have a bit of heart in the form of the gradual emotional bond that forms between father and daughter, but don’t think that you’ll be shedding any tears (well, other than those of laughter) in between the many images of penises and pubic hair.
With America having crossed the rubicon to now be beyond parody, Cohen’s apparent goal is to uncover just how far gone the country really is with its dissolution into silliness. Of course, the people he fools and makes fools of are often ones that are actively causing very real harm, and it’s ultimately down to individual taste if Cohen’s methods are helpful, harmful, or just flat out pointless. Perhaps this is how he deals with his own feelings of anger and resentment that so many have been drowning in these past few years. Among the outrageous and hilariously candid moments are plenty that still make you go “How in the world was he even able to do this?“, proof that Cohen still has an ability to shock and provoke even the most hardened and cynical of viewers.
The United States has become the tragic laughing stock and punching bag of the world – largely due to the Trump administration and its disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic that continues to ravage the country – and while Cohen certainly wants to make audiences aware of that fact, the pessimism that he appeared to have in his last journey into the trenches with Who Is America? has been replaced with tepid hope. There are several moments in Borat 2 that showcase the unflinching patience and kindness of some of its oblivious subjects, an important reminder that there are still genuinely good people out there. It’s true generosity that is impossible to fabricate, and based on the purposeful timing of the film’s release – less than two weeks before what is already a historical election – it’s something that Cohen still believes can, and must, be saved. The film certainly won’t be for everyone, and it never hits the truly insane peaks that the original did, but if any major movie had to be the last one before whatever lunacy awaits us after November 3rd, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan feels like the perfect fit. Very nice!