Sacha Baron Cohen’s return to the character that made him is an enjoyable if only mildly shocking document of the last ten months (or ten years) in the United States of America. Streaming on Amazon Prime, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is neither as funny nor as outrageous as the fourteen year-old original, and there are many reasons for this, most of which are not the fault of the film itself but simply a reality of the world in which we live in 2020. We live in a world utterly transformed by the internet and social media, our behaviors evolved, our awareness of the strange possibilities of entertainment at an all-time high. We’ve been desensitized to outrageous events and sensationalist rhetoric, to the point where the behavior and ideology expressed is inherently going to be less shocking than it was in 2006, a time of a burgeoning internet landscape on the precipice, if well before the greatest propaganda machines (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) in history were unleashed and popularized.
A greater percentage of the film is scripted compared to what we saw so many years ago, ditching the mockumentary format and leaving less time for real pranks on an unsuspecting public. I would imagine there is far less opportunity in 2020 for surprising an unsuspecting public, if for no other reason than Borat and Cohen are now famous figures in pop culture. Though it was clearly addressed and accounted for by him throughout the making of Moviefilm, you can see such strings holding them back, particularly when Borat and his deranged daughter Tutar seemingly fail at eliciting the sort of ludicrous reactions needed for high-bar comedy. As Borat’s confused offspring, Bulgarian comedian Maria Bakalova steals the movie as a teenage girl dreaming of the sort of “caged wife life” that Melania Trump enjoys. Moviefilm works best when tackling the current administration head-on, from Cohen storming CPAC in a Klan outfit to Maria interviewing Rudy Giuliani in a costume befitting one of Fox News’ bubbly blondes, there remains enough mischief here to hold anyone’s attention.
The movie’s most revealing moment occurs at a small-town Trump rally wherein locals openly laugh and sing along to a Borat song about murdering journalists, scientists, and Barack Obama, whilst some engage in Nazi salutes. Dissimilar if no less disturbing rhetoric is expressed by two men whom Borat bunks with in the rural south. Both of them come across as generally good men, even men who reject misogyny. However, they also continually repeat QAnon conspiracy theories regarding Democrats and specifically the Clinton family, referring to liberals as “evil” and deserving of “less rights.” While none of this is altogether surprising, it’s enlightening to hear it all so plainly stated by two people who are otherwise ordinary and non-threatening, men who are clearly the victims of those aforementioned propaganda machines. The movie’s best moment comes in the final reel, when the satirical focal point becomes clear in a riff on one iconic moment from the first film. The Running of the Jew has become the Running of the American, as the reputation of the United States has fallen so low as to become the laughingstock of Kazakhstan, not to mention the world.