Released: 23rd October
Seen: 25th October
In 2006 a film called Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan became one of the biggest hits of the year. It was a blistering pisstake of racism in America, exposing just how prevalent some disgustingly racist attitudes were. It was a film made to make people realise how horrific and stupid racism was… and mostly it ended up with 20-something white guys putting on a thick accent and going “It’s ni-ice” or “My wi-ife” at random intervals. Still, the film was a big deal and people have been clamouring for a sequel for years, a sequel that would probably be impossible because of the recognisability of the main character which would render it impossible to get genuine interviews with people who were unaware that they were talking to a character. So, now that we have a sequel, how do they work around this? Simple, a lot less Borat.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan or Borat 2 (Which is what we’re going to call it from now on) has the titular Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) being given another key mission from the ruler of Kazakhstan to make friends with Donald Trump by way of a bribe, specifically by bribing Mike Pence with a new wife because Mike Pence is, according to the film, a well known pussy hound. Due to wacky circumstances, Borat’s 15 year old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) ends up coming along with him and Borat decides that the bribe for Mike Pence will be Tutar. So throughout the film Borat tries to turn Tutar into a sexually attractive woman who he can use as a gift to Mike Pence and on the way he might also end up exposing even more ugly racism (because, ya know, we didn’t have enough of that being exposed every day when a cell phone catches a Karen screaming in a dollar store) and just how much of a creep Rudy Guiliani is.
So the first thing you’ll notice when watching Borat is that they’ve basically written in a way for them to avoid having Sacha look like Borat for a shockingly large amount of the film. They address the whole “He’s too recognizable” thing pretty quickly and effectively by showing crowds of people surrounding him and having to go off to put on the disguise of an ‘average American’. It does kind of make one wonder why they didn’t just make this it’s own film about an average American caricature, and then I remember the box office of Brüno and that explains why they stuck with Borat. Fortunately, even without the familiar face in a lot of the interviews or bigger set pieces, Borat still knows how to land a punch.
Exposing bigotry in America in 2020 isn’t hard, sadly it seems to require saying the phrase “Black lives matter” and just waiting for someone to reply. Borat 2 seems aware of this and goes for more interesting targets on top of the racism, such as calling out fake abortion clinics who don’t care if a child is the result of incest or Q-anon or just the alt-right in general. Sure there’s a lot of moments where the eager racism of middle America is laid out for all to see such as a rally where Sacha, with minimal prompting, is able to get an entire crowd of right wingers to sing phrases like “Chop them up like the Saudis do” and “Gas them up like the Germans do” (That second one even seems to get a Nazi salute out of one of the crowd, so that’s fun) and it genuinely amazes me how they got half of this stuff on film but it’s all shockingly hilarious. Just when you think they can’t go further, Borat 2 builds to a climax so stunning that it made international news.
By now you’ve probably heard about the Rudy Guiliani clip where he appears to fondle himself and let’s just say, that is the least of his worries. From getting Rudy to claim that Covid was manufactured and deliberately spread around the world to his creepy flirting with someone who he believes is a reporter, everything about the scene with Rudy is the kind of thing that should end a career. Yes, it’s played as a joke and it’s what the entire film builds to, but if you removed Sacha you’d have a sting operation to catch a creep.
That ambush style of comedy is what this film thrives on, creating strange situations and watching regular people reacting to them. A scene where Borat’s character goes to a fake abortion clinic and says “I put a baby in my daughter and you need to get it out” is hilarious just because of the full context of the scene and how completely committed to the characters Sacha and Maria are (sidebar, Maria Bakalova is the real star of this film) but then you think about it for half a minute and get horrified that this clinic can be told explicitly “This baby is an incest baby” and they’ll still do nothing. This kind of “Oh that’s funny… and horrifying” thing happens throughout and it’s done expertly by this insane pair of performers.
I won’t lie though, 14 years later it does feel like Borat isn’t as essential as he used to be. The character exposed racist behaviors back in 2006 when we liked to pretend we didn’t have that problem (because we were all very dumb back then) but it’s 2020. Give me enough time on my twitter timeline and I’ll have a video of a white woman with bad hair yelling the N-word because she got cut off in traffic, it no longer shocks me to see racists being racist on camera. Sure, this is a lot funnier than watching the real thing on Twitter, but the shock of seeing people going along with casual racism is long gone by now.
Even though it’s not quite as fresh as it was in 2006, Borat 2 still is able to call out big names and shine a light on the bigotry that runs rampant. A lot of the time the jokes still land fairly well, better than they have any right to. Throughout the film I was wondering just why we needed Borat in 2020, if he was a relic of the early 2000’s whose time had come but by the end I was reminded that what Borat, and his creator, does better than anyone is put bad people at ease long enough to shine a light on just how bad they are and does it all while making us laugh at this outrageous insanity.