There’s a lot to unpack in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the sequel to 2006’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. I am not at liberty to divulge spoilers or talk about any of the film’s big moments, and this is a comedy with a lot of “big moments,” although most of them are of the, “You had to be there” variety, because it’s impossible to describe the level of comedy and discomfort. There are a lot of, “Oh, shit! This can’t actually be real, can it?” moments, as well as a lot of, “that’s not OK,” and “They don’t actually believe that, do they?” moments.
Like the first Borat, Subsequent Moviefilm brings Sacha Baron Cohen’s title character to the South, specifically the state of Texas, where — in an effort to free himself from the prison labor he’s endured since the first Borat film — Borat is given an assignment to travel to America and gift his daughter to Mike Pence (who does make an appearance from afar). His daughter is played by Maria Bakalova, and being a relative newcomer allows Sandra Jessica Parker Sagdiyev the ability to do something that Borat cannot do, which is to freely travel among the masses without being recognized (while out in public, Borat has to wear a lot of elaborate disguises).
Thus, in Subsequent Moviefilm, Borat’s daughter becomes his Ken Davitian, and she absolutely steals this film, convincingly playing a Kazakh who comes to America, lives in a cage, and aspires to be given away to a wealthy politician. She is an actress, but the way she interacts with real people elicits laughter, discomfort, and even some sympathy. Playing basically a feral teenager also means going through a makeover process with rubes in Texas, which involves a lot of uncomfortable moments with hairdressers, dress shop owners, makeup people, and a debutante’s ball, where she performs a moon-blood dance, which is this film’s equivalent to Sacha Baron Cohen and Davitian rolling around naked on a hotel floor in the original Borat. It is one of many Wowee Wow Wow Wow moments in the film.
Is it good? If you liked the first Borat film, you will like this one. If you didn’t like the first Borat film, you definitely will not like this one. Subsequent Moviefilm does not feel exactly of its time, either: It feels like a relic of the George W. Bush era, although the behaviors and beliefs that Borat exposes here are far more scary/terrifying/idiotic. We meet, for instance, QAnon believers who — without a trace of irony — explain to Borat that some of his beliefs are “conspiracy theories.” In a leaked scene that went viral online a few months ago, Borat also goes to a three-percenter rally and performs an upbeat anthem about killing Obama and Saudis murdering journalists that these rallygoers enthusiastically join in on. It’s hard to laugh because it is all so horrifying, and the line between, “Should we be laughing at them or arresting them?” is not entirely clear. These are exactly the kind of people who end up trying to kidnap Democratic governors.
SNL often fails at parody when it comes to Trump because Trump is worse than any parody. That’s what Sacha Baron Cohen so effectively does here: He allows real people to play parodies of themselves, only they are not parodies, and sometimes, all you can do is laugh to keep yourself from crying.
Meanwhile, I won’t give any spoilers except to say that the film’s climactic moment involves Rudy Giuliani; it is damning as hell but unsurprising, and it should be more newsworthy than it will ultimately end up being. All I will say is that my goddamn jaw dropped to the floor and my body recoiled so violently I nearly pooped out my own eyeballs.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilmdebuts on Amazon Prime on Friday, October 23rd.