Is Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm as shocking or hilarious as its predecessor? No, it isn’t. But guess what? It’s still far, far better than a sequel to a beloved comedy has any right to be, especially when arriving years past its expiration date (or so we thought).
I should first address how amazing it is that this movie even exists at all. Using the character of Borat to dupe others is difficult in 2020 now that he has essentially become a public figure, and this is only added to the nightmare of shooting a movie during the middle of a global pandemic. Nevertheless, the movie not only works around both hurdles, but actively uses them to make the movie funnier via new outfits for Borat, as well as a tie-in to COVID so perfect that I have a grin on my face just thinking about it.
Still, the logistics of filming the movie is secondary to its biggest hurdle, which is the question of whether Borat can still be funny over a decade later. The original Borat had two main targets at its center, with the obvious one being the character of Borat himself, yet to me Borat primarily served to instigate encounters and shine a light on its second target, which is ignorant Americans caught on tape. In terms of the latter, I think this is definitely a step-down from the first, lacking the bite and shock present in the first film’s portrayal of post-9/11 America. There are still some great interviews, sure, but I don’t think the movie is quite as relevant as it wants to be in exposing MAGA-country, especially when deceptive editing sometimes ruins the allure of authenticity that makes these moments so funny.
However, what really works is the Borat of it all…or, I guess I should say Borat and his daughter, Tutar, who effectively serves as his new partner in crime. The relationship between these two is genuinely hilarious, finding depths of humor in the Kazakhstan schtick that not even the first movie could. Maria Bakalova’s performance as Tutar is the reason this all works, as she is putting herself in unbelievable situations and committing to the gag just as much as Cohen does. There is also some really clever writing here, which I know sounds a bit crazy since — after all — this is a comedy predicated on the idea of filming actual people, but there is a surprisingly tight structure in the story unifying all of the movie’s interviews that really gives everything an extra boost.
Not every joke is going to land with everybody, of course, but there is something refreshing about watching a comedy shoot for the fences to the point it will sometimes make you wonder how they filmed it, or how they can even show it. I know everybody is proclaiming that bold and controversial comedy is dead, but Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm is proof that it is alive and well and — most importantly — funny. Is this a sequel that we truly needed? Probably not, but not everything needs to justify its existence, especially when it can produce some much-needed laughs (and a new movie to review) in the doom and gloom of 2020.