When the original Borat film came out in 2006, the United States that the fictional reporter from Kazakhstan encountered was much different than the one that exists today. At that time, just five years removed from 9/11, a satirical skewering of American customs and beliefs still had the capacity to shock despite the rise of jingoism.
Now, on the eve of a hugely consequential election, comes Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, a movie that may go down in history as one of the most accurate reflections of the United States in 2020. Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) once again travels to America, this time not to report on “the greatest country in the world” but to deliver a present to Vice President Mike Pence.
And thus sets in motion another wild trip into the outrageous and outrageously brave comedy mind of Cohen. When the original gift, a monkey, meets an unsavory end at the hands of Borat’s daughter (Maria Bakalova), Borat pivots to offer her up instead. The two travel all over the country, including a stop at the 2019 State Fair of Texas, to properly prepare her for her big moment.
The film is guaranteed to offend, whether you know what’s coming or not, as Borat holds contemptible views on everything from women to Jewish people. Of course, the point in having the character spout his bigotry is to expose the casual way in which those opinions are accepted, such as when a bakery owner has no issue with putting “Jews will not replace us” as a message on a cake.
Viewers may find themselves watching the film through their fingers at the multiple awkward situations. Targets include a Christian anti-abortion doctor, a debutante ball, and, naturally, Trump supporters. The biggest moment in the film comes when they somehow get Rudy Giuliani to sit down for an interview, leading to a scene that will unfortunately be seared on the brains of all viewers for weeks to come.
Scenes are edited in such a way to maximize the cluelessness or bigotry of the unwitting participants, so it’s never clear if they’re in on the joke or not. The presence of a cameraperson would seem to be a big clue that something is amiss, but many times people seem to forget they’re being recorded.
And then there’s the 2020 of it all. Somehow, Cohen didn’t let a pandemic stop him from forging ahead in his mission, and it pays off in an extended stay with two Trump supporters in the state of Washington. The men perfectly epitomize the degree to which conspiracy theories have infected right-wing politics, and a rally they attend with Borat — without a mask in sight — is as good a time capsule of this year as any news coverage.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (subtitled Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) may not have the bite of the original, but that’s merely because the times we live in are almost impossible to satirize. But Cohen still knows how to wring comedy out of almost any situation, making for another hilariously cringeworthy experience.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.