“Borat” sequel raucously critiques American culture, politics

The character Borat grins and gives two thumbs up, wearing his face mask on his head.
Illustration by Madeline Cox

Sacha Baron Cohen’s brilliance is on full display in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” the outstanding sequel to “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (2006). He takes us on a whirlwind journey in which the United States, particularly the deep South, is used as fodder for pure hilarity. Along the way, we are exposed to seemingly mundane and commonplace aspects of our society (plastic surgery, religion, politics) which Borat considerably enlivens by being as “Kazakhstani” as possible. For those familiar with the first film, there is enough of Borat’s trademark wit and gall to appease your sense of nostalgia. But the remarkable quality of the sequel rests on its ability to catch your surprise while maintaining the reality of American life and the insanity of the original Borat story.

The film follows Borat and his daughter, Tutar, as they traverse the South in order to find major political figures for Tutar to be married off to. This is part of a “top-secret mission” from the Kazakhstan government which forces Borat to assume various wacky disguises in order to evade detection. Due to the many disguises he has to wear, Cohen is able to more effectively interact with the American public — a clear strength of his comedy. This speaks to a larger goal of the film: authenticity. As a viewer, you almost have to remind yourself that none of the interactions are staged, that the wild action playing out on-screen is somehow real. At one point, for instance, we get to see Borat on-stage at a conservative political rally leading people in an anti-Obama sing-a-long — a shockingly real event that illustrates Cohen’s commitment to authenticity. Suffice to say, if the public knew who they were actually talking to, their reactions would not be as satisfying and genuine as they are in the film. 

Aside from these hilarious interactions, the film’s humor draws on Cohen’s inaccurate and exaggerated interpretation of a Kazakhstani person. Cohen acts as bigoted as possible in order to reveal the bigotry prevalent in American culture. There is an abundance of anti-Semitic jokes (Cohen himself is Jewish), a lack of cultural sensitivity and a spattering of non-progressive thinking, all of which fit into the greater tapestry of Cohen’s highly exaggerated portrayal. While these characteristics would certainly not be funny in a real person, the film is able to satirize them by contrasting their absurdity with the normalcy of the settings (a bakery, health clinic, etc.) Cohen finds himself in.     

One of the standout performances of the film was from Maria Bakalova, the actress that plays Tutar. Tutar is desperate to prove herself worthy of a prominent husband, which leads to her willingly accepting Borat’s outlandish schemes to make her more attractive, including a major breast augmentation. It is obvious that Cohen is mocking American standards of beauty here, namely how pervasive they are in our society. Regardless, Bakalova is about as in-character as you could expect throughout her performance, resulting in an oddly believable Tutar that melts our hearts and steals the show.  

Of course, the film takes more than a few shots at various political figures as well (it would not be a Cohen production otherwise), though not as many as you might expect. For example, it takes aim at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for wearing blackface, as it shows a picture of him alongside a narration describing the world’s Black leaders. However, it does not, contrary to the expectations of the mainstream media, underscore the wrongdoings of our current administration. Rather, the film allows the viewer to enjoy its humor without being especially divisive.   

Ultimately, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is likely to be regarded as one of the most compelling comedies in recent memory, as it consummately incorporates present-day American life into the storyline. Plus, it was partially shot in Eugene, Oregon. It is currently available on Amazon Prime Video, for those that are interested in immersing themselves in an awe-inducing experience that they will not soon forget.

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