Borat 2 movie review: Sacha Baron Cohen holds up a mirror to America’s far right, and invites the world to shame them
Sacha Baron Cohen weaponises bigotry against itself in a blistering plea to Americans to vote Trump out.
castSacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova, Dani Popescu
Depending on whom you ask, Trump has either ruined comedy, or proved to be a goldmine. For how do you parody a man who is already a living, breathing, and tweeting parody in himself? Trump is undoubtedly the king of the court, the comedians mere jesters in it. Despite the things he does, says, and tweets being subject to 24/7 news scrutiny, holding him accountable for any of it has been a frustrating challenge. Here, comedy becomes catharsis, a kind of balm to soothe all our anger. That is exactly what Sacha Baron Cohen does as he reprises his role as Borat, 14 years after "wawaweewa" and "jagshemash" entered the pop culture dictionary. But that is not all he does. With Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Cohen holds up a mirror to America’s far-right, and invites the world to shame them.
Borat 2 is a brutal ambush comedy on all the people who have enabled Trump for four years. It is a visual document to judge the complicit.
Borat here becomes a projection screen for their fears and resentments, which he not only reflects but magnifies to their outrageous extremes. Conservatives complain about PC culture going too far. So, here they are in all their un-PC glory, and few bite their tongues. The same people who appear scandalised by Borat's regressive ideas prove themselves to be equally, if not more, regressive.
Cornering conservatives into a foul self-parody, Cohen subjects them all to a good ol' American carpet-bombing. Only now they are on the other side of it. It is alarming not just when they indulge Borat, but when a smile of complicity escapes their lips. In his short-lived Showtime series, Cohen asked an important question: Who Is America? The answer is revealed in Borat 2.
It is the baker who readily agrees to write “Jews Will Not Replace Us” on a chocolate cake, the shop owner who high-fives Borat when he jokes about the number of Mexican children Trump could fit in a cage, the clothing boutique owner who cracks up when Borat asks her where’s the "no means yes" section, the tanning salon employee who has a straightforward answer to the question, “What colour is best for racist family?”, and the cosmetic surgeon who elaborately describes a Jewish nose.
Arming bigotry against itself, he infiltrates the radical right. He rubs shoulders with QAnon conspiracy theorists, pro-life pastors, and even Republican politicians, and stirs up a hornet's nest at political rallies and conventions. You have to take your hat off in awe at the sheer audacity of his being as he disrupts a Republican conference, where Vice President Mike Pence is seen underestimating the threat of coronavirus.
The pandemic brought out the only people foolish enough to roam about in hives, and Borat capitalises on their ignorance. With the surge in rabid, gun-toting, racist Americans, Cohen doesn't need to lay any bear traps. The gullible bigots almost willingly trap themselves in his orbit. Two QAnon believers try to convince him the Democrats created the Coronavirus, and he enlists their help in writing a song about the "Wuhan flu." Contradictions and vile ideologies reveal themselves in these once-faceless keyboard cowboys, who usually behind their screens. They attend a "freedom rally" of anti-maskers, where Borat leads the unwitting crowd in song, and encourages them to sing along the chorus: “Obama, what we gonna do? Inject him with the Wuhan flu… Journalists, what we gonna do? Chop ’em up like the Saudis do.”
Cohen rides the new wave of political comedy, and gets on the crest. On occasion, he trips. There are parts which may become an endurance test for the unwitting participants and the viewers watching too. One shtick turns the tables on Borat, as Holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans helps him realise that Holocaust was not a "fairytale" like he read on a Facebook page. It is a teachable moment amid all the hysteria.
Borat’s antics yet again leave us slack-jawed at Cohen’s gonzo sensibilities. The schtick, more or less, remains the same, but he must navigate the added threats of COVID-19 and conservative ire. Moreover, with near-universal familiarity also comes the inevitable dilemma of being recognised everywhere. So, Cohen often forgoes the curly hair, thick moustache and grey suit for other disguises. This is where his sidekick Maria Bakalova plays a key role, by taking some of the attention away from him to ensure he is not exposed.
Aiding and abetting him in all his pranks, Bakalova plays Borat’s daughter Tutar. The unibrowed understudy perfectly complements Borat, like Ken Davitian's Azamat Bagatov did in the original. Their chemistry is the engine that drives all the new pranks. Watch her come into her own in visits to a pregnancy crisis centre, a plastic surgeon, and a debutante ball. Somewhere in all this unashamed crudity is also a surprisingly touching tale about a father and daughter trying to get woke together.
The premise is in the title, Borat: Gift of Pornographic Monkey to Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence to Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan. Borat's antics in the first film landed him in the gulag for 14 years. The country’s premier gives him the opportunity to redeem himself and make Kazakhstan "glorious" again. The Kazakh journalist embarks on a mission to gift a monkey to “Vice Pussy Grabber" Mike Pence. On arrival, he discovers his daughter has not only hid herself in the shipping crate, but eaten the monkey. So, he decides to gift her instead. But the premise is not as important as its purpose.
All this leads to that "gotcha" moment involving Rudy Giuliani. Trump's lawyer and the former New York City Mayor finds himself in an incriminating position, which has already been covered by all major news outlets. Whether it evolves into something more than a punchline remains to be seen. These shocking visuals are meant to destroy the final shred of respect viewers still retain for Trump and the GOP. So, Cohen ends the film with a final plea to viewers, imploring them to vote in the upcoming elections.
Borat was a transgressive comedy and a caustic criticism of conservatives during the Bush administration. The sequel is those things too, but it is also a call to action to undo the damage caused by the Trump administration. It is the zeitgeist with a moustache and mankini, a totem of a society where politics and comedy have come to mean pretty much the same thing.
It is likely the viewers will be too busy laughing through its runtime before the credits jolt them back to their nightmarish reality. Judging in a vacuum, Borat 2 may not be as funny as the original. The sequel may also not feel as subversive as the original at a time when politicians don't need any coaxing to say despicable things. But with the US elections right around the corner, it comes with a clear message: Vote to save democracy.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
(Also read — Sacha Baron Cohen on his Borat sequel: The aim is to make people laugh, but also reveal perils of authoritarianism)
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