In 2006, something historic happened in America. It wasn’t the Democratic dominance of the midterm elections, the looming 2008 financial crisis, or Dick Cheney shooting a guy in the face. Rather, it was the arrival on American shores of a character who would go down in infamy: Borat Margaret Sagdiyev, a Kazakh journalist played by the king of satire, Sacha Baron Cohen. In 2020, Borat came back for more, starring in a sequel titled Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Supported by Tutar, his newly imagined daughter, Cohen again sets out to reveal the ludicrousness of American society, this time through a story of self-discovery and maturation. However, if Borat was a cultural dirty bomb set off on Bush-era America, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is more akin to a mild firecracker which merely adds to the cacophony of Trump’s America.
Unfortunately, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm can be summed up in one DJ Khaled album title; this movie is Suffering from Success. The success of the original Borat clipped the wings of its successor as Borat’s notoriety meant that Cohen could no longer publicly perform in character without being recognized. With the threat of recognition looming over him, Cohen was forced to rely less heavily on comedy revolving around the ridiculousness of Borat as that ridiculousness was no longer a novelty. Thus, Subsequent Moviefilm makes an interesting creative split from its older brother, namely by embracing the aforementioned storyline.
However, the Borat brand suffers significantly from this transition to a more traditional comedy plot. The genius of the first movie was that the comedy didn’t come from Cohen and his narration. Instead, it came from the sheer absurdity of people’s reactions to the character. In this way, Cohen masterfully showed just how ridiculous Americans can be in their inability to think critically and question a situation. By transitioning to a more structured movie in its sequel, Cohen loses this core strength of Borat. While some of the scripted jokes are undoubtedly funny, they lose the sheer shock value of people’s absurd reactions to the often surreal situations created by Cohen. Furthermore, many of the scripted portions of the movie also feel lazily written, relying on the same offensive humor of the first Borat but missing the candidness that made it so effective. The failed transition from situational to scripted comedy is revealed in the few moments in the sequel that do rely on the format set by the first movie, which were just as shocking and funny.
A glaring example of the weakness of the storyline running through Subsequent Moviefilm is the movie’s vague and shallow feminist bent. Over the course of the movie, Tutar gradually learns that the misogynistic message delivered to her by Borat is not true. However, the grand insight offered by this realization is…women should not have to sleep in cages? Even if the Trump administration may not have learned said lesson, that revelation is not exactly a great contribution to the feminist canon. Overall, the storyline’s grand feminist “critique” feels shallow as the insights offered are not anything Cohen’s liberal audience would not already believe in. Instead of holding up a mirror to society, the message just allows liberals to pat themselves on the back for clearing the low bar of knowing that women deserve autonomy. This failure is especially disappointing because there is considerable potential in the idea of using a satirical female lead to expose how society treats women differently.
That isn’t to say that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm lacks redeeming qualities. Sacha Baron Cohen is still undeniably a giant of comedy and the movie is funny. However, it’s funny in the same way as contemporary SNL—defined by jokes that occasionally produces a chuckle, but never an “Oh my god society is so insane I can’t help but just laugh hysterically” reaction.
So, overall, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm lives up to the expectations set by the first… Not!