Featured Image: The Dartmouth Newspaper
In 2006, director Larry Charles and actor-producer Sacha Baron Cohen released one of the most famed and controversial mockumentaries of all time: Borat, or, as it is fully titled, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. For those unfamiliar with the initial phenomenon, Sacha Baron Cohen created the persona of Borat Sagdiyev, a supposed Kazakh television journalist who’s humor stems from his outrageous socio-political viewpoints and use of social taboos. After claiming that he had retired the character in 2007, Baron Cohen has brought back the iconic journalist persona with the hope of showing some of the most bizarre and unthinkable parts of American culture.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm stars Sacha Baron Cohen and newcomer Maria Bakalova while being the directorial debut for Jason Woliner. Set 14 years after the events of the first film, this sequel tells the story of Borat, who has been released from prison after having made a mockery of Kazakhstan in the previous film, being sent to the United States to deliver a great gift to Vice President Mike Pence (yes, that’s serious). While this is the central plot of the film, Borat runs into other issues, such as dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak and trying to integrate himself into some of the most racist, sexist, and misinformed parts of American society.
Initially, no one in Hollywood knew the film was being made, as the producers tried to keep the film a secret until the very last moment. However, this past August, Sacha Baron Cohen was spotted as Borat in the streets of Los Angeles, instantly setting the stage for the film. When the news had dropped of the film’s upcoming release, any and every fan of the original film became ecstatic and curious as to whether or not the film could live up to the original.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s sequel is, as Roger Ebert accurately put it in his review, “a deliciously unstable comedy.” The film lacks no subtlety, as does Baron Cohen’s performance. In the past, Sacha Baron Cohen has talked about the terror that went through his mind when filming the original, specifically the scenes where he would directly insult the United States or put himself in a position to possibly be arrested. Despite that fear, the sequel continues to do just that, as Borat pulls off some incredibly dangerous feats such as aligning himself with white supremacists or trying to ruin a speech by Vice President Mike Pence at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The film definitely generates an immense amount of laughs as well as gasps, as you can only watch in awe of some of the crazy people who live in our society.
While the film continues to be hilariously insane, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm lacks the realism that existed in the first. This is likely due to the fact that people are now familiar with the character Borat Sagdiyev, forcing Sacha Baron Cohen to have Borat in disguise as to not be recognized. Because of that, you feel like you are just watching Sacha Baron Cohen dress up as random people in order to expose parts of American society. As a matter of fact, Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance is very similar to his in Who Is America?, a political satire series where Sacha Baron Cohen disguised himself in order to bait politicians into making fools of themselves. While this is certainly funny, it makes it that the film can’t quite live up to the first. Due to these similarities, you feel like you could swap the footage from Who Is America and Borat Subsequent Movie Film without noticing much of a difference between the two.
However, many of these issues are solved by one person: Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, who plays Borat’s daughter, Tutar Sagdiyev. Bakalova really is the best part of this film and makes a legitimate argument for being the sole reason this film is even good at all. While Sacha Baron Cohen is easily one of the funniest actors working today, his inability to fully access the role of Borat like he did with the original film is evident. On the other hand, Maria Bakalova, who nobody had met before the release of this film, is basically able to do all that Sacha Baron Cohen did back in 2006. She is both charming and funny, bringing a totally different perspective to the film as we are watching a 15 year old child from a foreign country navigate the United States as opposed to a grown man.
This sequel to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) was never going to be able to comedically outperform the original, especially since the first film revolutionized the concept of documentary filmmaking. However, that does not mean that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is not a funny and enjoyable film, it just had a tough act to follow after the first one. I definitely recommend checking out Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova’s new film, but just know that this sequel does not quite live up to the comedic heights of its predecessor.