‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ can’t shock us anymore: Review

Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) is no longer an anonymous traveler in 'Subsequent Moviefilm.'
Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) is no longer an anonymous traveler in ‘Subsequent Moviefilm.’

Image: Amazon Studios

Maybe you’ve been eagerly anticipating Borat’s triumphant return to the screen, or maybe you’d just as soon never hear the words “my wife” ever again. Either way, Borat has rarely been one to worry about whether he’s welcome as he crashes into one awkward situation after another. And so here, on the eve of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, comes Borat Subsequent Moviefilm to weigh in on the current state of our culture.

A lot’s changed since the first Borat came out in 2006, which the film readily acknowledges. For starters, Borat, played once again by Sacha Baron Cohen, is no longer an anonymous weirdo. Once you’re famous enough to inspire unlicensed Halloween costumes (labeled, to Borat’s bafflement, “Stupid Foreign Reporter”), you’re too famous to corner unsuspecting people into the kind of painfully raw and uncomfortable interviews that are the cornerstone of Borat’s comedy.

Subsequent Moviefilm frequently works around Borat’s renown with disguises, including a disturbingly realistic Trump costume that he dons at CPAC 2020 for one of the film’s most outrageous chapters. The movie’s other solution is even better: It gives Borat a “non-male son” — i.e., daughter — to accompany him on his mission to travel across the country and befriend members of the Trump administration. 

Played by newcomer Maria Bakalova with a level of commitment that rivals Baron Cohen’s own, his daughter Tutar turns out to be Subsequent Moviefilm‘s secret weapon. She simultaneously draws out the sweetness inherent in the Borat character, adds her own unpredictable energy to their adventures, and slips into spaces that he never could, like a crisis pregnancy center (the best scene in the movie) or a gathering of Republican women. 

Tutar (Maria Bakalova) is the secret weapon of 'Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.'

Tutar (Maria Bakalova) is the secret weapon of ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.’

But of course, the bigger difference between 2006’s Borat and 2020’s Subsequent Moviefilm is in America itself. Borat is arriving in a very different political climate than the one he visited last, and one in which even his most extreme antics seem less shocking than they used to. Subsequent Moviefilm does earn a few gasps, as when Borat dons a KKK costume and loudly identifies himself as Stephen Miller, and many giggles, as when Borat and Tutar attend a debutante ball and perform a fertility dance that goes spectacularly off the rails. As with the first film, part of the thrill of Subsequent Moviefilm is wondering just how in the hell they pulled this off. 

Our culture has finally caught up to Borat. That can’t be a good thing.

When Subsequent Moviefilm reaches for more pointed commentary, though, its results are less interesting. Borat’s M.O. throughout the 2000s was to shock the audience — with the brazenly misogynistic, racist, antisemitic, homophobic comments coming out of his mouth, with the similarly offensive behavior he was able to bring out in ordinary citizens and high-profile politicians alike, with the breathtaking hypocrisy that people will demonstrate when they think no one important is watching.

But what’s so shocking in 2020 about watching a crowd of Trump supporters sing about wanting to “chop up [journalists] like the Saudis do“? Was anyone expecting Rudy Giuliani not to be kind of a sleaze? Is it really so surprising to hear right-wing conspiracy theorists earnestly parrot some of QAnon’s most bizarre claims? Or to see Tutar claim she read on Facebook that the Holocaust never happened? We see worse than that every day on the nightly news or in our social media feeds. Even the film’s darkest jokes aren’t much bleaker or crueler than the ones that go viral on Twitter.

Which, come to think of it, may be the movie’s darkest joke of all. Far from feeling like a relic of simpler times, as might be expected from a sequel to a film that came out a decade and half ago, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm feels perfectly of these times. This bumbling traveler used to provoke feelings of shame and outrage and discomfort over the disconnect between the country America claimed to be, and the country it actually was. Now there’s nothing for him to expose, because it’s all out in the open. 

Where Borat was once an outrageous outlier, he’s become just another proud bigot wandering the countryside. Or to put it another way: Our culture has finally caught up to Borat. That can’t be a good thing.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm hits Amazon Prime on Oct. 23.

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