After Bond, Black Widow, and most of this year’s biggest hitters hightailed it to 2021, it came as a very niiice surprise that not only would Sacha Baron Cohen be bringing back one of his most beloved characters, Borat Sagdiyev, but that the long-awaited sequel was already in the can, and would release before the American presidential election in November.
That pre-election release date is key to understanding Subsequent Moviefilm, which serves as both follow-up to one of this century’s finest comedies, and an elaborate, inspired Get Out The Vote campaign movie.
Subjected to 14 years hard labour after his first ‘documentary’ made Kazakhstan a global laughing stock, Borat is given a chance to redeem himself by delivering a gift to American Vice President ‘Mikhail’ Pence. The plan goes awry when Borat’s daughter, Tutar (Belgian newcomer Maria Bakalova), stows away to America with him, meaning Borat must change course and turn his feral offspring into a gift worthy of America’s Vice “P****-grabber”.
Conservative America is firmly in Cohen’s crosshairs here. Borat’s mission takes him from small-town bakers, who happily ice chocolate cakes with anti-Semitic salutations, to stomach-churning run-ins with some of America’s most recognisable political figures.
Cohen and director Jason Woliner (a veteran of ingenious mockumentary series Nathan For You) have captured some jaw-dropping moments for this shot-in-secret sequel – some among the most outrageous, offensive and downright troubling of Cohen’s career.
Borat remains a wholly unsympathetic idiot. One scene – in which he confronts a Holocaust survivor in a synagogue while dressed in the most despicable costume imaginable – is deeply uncomfortable to watch, even with real-world context (Cohen broke character and let the heartwarmingly lovely woman in on the joke).
But it’s often the smaller, sweeter moments that truly tickle. A delightfully daft scene in which Borat cuts a man’s hair, and proceeds to show him the results of every snip stands out purely because these oddball moments that made the first film so effective are largely sacrificed in favour of grandstanding gotcha pranks.
The influence of Cohen’s 2018 series Who Is America? can be keenly felt in this respect. In that show an unrecognisable Cohen went undercover as a series of caricatured political commentators to catch out his subjects. Cohen is forced to take a similar approach here: Kazakhstan’s fourth-best journalist is so well-known at this point (a fact the film is forced to acknowledge at the outset), that Borat himself spends much of the film in disguise. Oddly, this means Borat has a significantly reduced presence in his own film, leaving Tutar to pick up the slack.
Thankfully, relative unknown Bakalova is more than up to the task, possessing courage, conviction and an ability to keep her composure in the most incredible situations that matches Cohen himself. She’s quite the discovery, with a natural warmth that helps sell the surprisingly sweet scripted sub-plot between Borat and Tutar which serves as connective tissue between sketches.
A stupid film made by very smart people, Subsequent Moviefilm has a noble intent at odds with the loathsome figures that populate it. It’s never quite as gut-bustingly funny as the 2006 original, but you get the sense that wasn’t what Cohen was going for. By simply holding a mirror up to the rampant hypocrisy, division and hatred at the heart of America and giving bigots the rope to hang themselves, Borat feels more relevant and necessary than ever.