When the film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” was released in 2006, it brought a new era where shock value, no matter how obscene, could translate into valuable attention — abhorrent to some, but addictively hilarious to others.
In comparison to the norms in 2006, 2020 might as well be a different planet. We are now living in a nation that is attempting to recognize its cultural and racial diversity by adjusting what is acceptable and pointing out what is offensive and racist. Despite all of this, Borat Sagdiyev, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, reappears in all of his glory in a film that nobody asked for, but desperately needed: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”
The start of the movie sees Borat living in disgrace in Kazakhstan after his first documentary brought great shame to his country. He is given a second chance by Premier Nazarbayev, played by Dani Popescu, the leader of Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev gives Borat the mission of delivering Johnny the Monkey, an actual monkey who is Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture and No.1 porno star, to Vice President Mike Pence as a gift that will help get Nazarbayev into the strong man club.
The strong man club includes President “McDonald” Trump, Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Kanye West. Upon arrival in America, Borat discovers that his only daughter has smuggled herself in the crate with Johnny the Monkey and has eaten him along the journey. What follows is another Borat exposé of American culture, only this time it is the far-right ideologies that have come out of the shadows during Donald Trump’s first term under scrutiny.
Like the first film, Borat must interview people without them realizing the joke, despite how awkward or embarrassing he is, all while staying in character. Baron Cohen, who, with his other ridiculous characters Ali G and Bruno, is successful in conning people for laughs and information.
Baron Cohan’s co-star, Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, plays Borat’s daughter Tutar Sagdiyev. Bakalova is 24 years old and only a year removed from graduating with a drama degree, and yet she matches and arguably surpasses Baron Cohen, a master of his craft.
Bakalova’s performance is utterly convincing, whether the scene involves her conning a room full of people or going through the confusion of a 15-year-old girl who loves her father but hates being lied to and absolutely will not sacrifice her newfound power to appease the patriarchy.
A large amount of the movie’s value comes from the interactions the duo has with people who hold right-wing political values to various degrees, from a pro-life doctor, a pair of conspiracy theorists, all the way to a man throwing up a nazi salute at an anti-mask rally in Washington.
The conspiracy theorists are recorded taking in a foreigner in need during a pandemic and emphasize their belief that the Democrats, as much as they don’t like it, also have the same rights as everybody else. Nevertheless, there is some horrifying behavior on display.
A plastic surgeon, played by Rudy Giuliani, is seen in a compromising state with Bakalova’s character. Despite what he may say, Giuliani makes everybody uncomfortable in his much-publicized scene in the film with Bakalova. Baron Cohen also had to flee in a hurry from the anti-mask rally in Washington because some aggressive right-wing people with guns realized they were being made into a joke and tried to force his trailer open.
With all of the dark humor in the film, there are moments of lightness that are ironically genuine and heartwarming considering how the entire movie is a farce.
While it is impossible to say what is scripted and what is not in this movie, at the core of it all is a story about a man who is changed by his daughter’s strength and all of the complicated Americans they met along the way.