His homeland may not want to boast about it, but Borat Sagdiyev is Kazakhstan’s best known export – and easily the most famous creation to come out of the febrile satirical imagination of Sacha Baron Cohen. It was 2006 when Borat first ventured on to the big screen, but until about a month ago we had no idea he was about to return. Attention was focussed on Cohen’s appearance in Aaron Sorkin’s awards-tipped The Trial Of The Chicago 7, a neat distraction tactic if ever there was one. But now, with all the fanfare you would expect, Borat is back.
We’ll skip the original lengthy title – something of a Borat tradition – and just call the sequel Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, which sees him sent on a mission back to his favourite country, the good ol’ US of A, to deliver a bribe to one of the most powerful men in the country. This time, however, instead of a fellow journalist as a travelling companion, there’s his teenage daughter, Sandra Jessica Parker Sagdiyev (Maria Bakalova) who has suffered all the indignities of being a Kazakhstani woman and goes through something of a life changing experience once she arrives in America. Does the bribe get delivered? Who’s it for? And who else do they meet on their travels? There’s only so much I can tell you …..
If, like many, you saw the original Borat movie fourteen years ago, you’ll remember that feeling of laughing yourself silly while simultaneously shaking your head in disbelief. His opinions were nothing short of outrageous, his language and behaviour crass in the extreme and, much as we howled with laughter, there was always the lingering, guilty feeling that perhaps we shouldn’t. But that was the point. As was the involvement of unsuspecting real people in his various escapades, often set up as figures of ridicule but always there to make a point. It broke new ground for comedy – nothing new for Cohen, admittedly – and shattered a few taboos along the way.
The sequel, essentially, is more of the same. But we’ve changed and so has comedy and satire. We’ve moved on since the days of 2006 which means that Borat’s latest adventures have to be even more outrageous to generate those laughs and sharpen that satire. And, while this review aims to be spoiler-free, it only takes a quick glance at social media to realise that’s exactly what Cohen has done, not only sticking with the idea of involving ordinary people but also including political figures, one of whom appears to have been caught in an eyebrow raising situation. The ordinary joes have even more extreme – and often downright offensive – opinions than before and Borat himself still embodies the worst in racism and misogyny.
As far as hitting the funny bone is concerned, Borat has slightly lost his edge, relying perhaps too heavily on offending our liberal sensibilities and making his target so patently clear that it borders on the clumsy. There are moments where you can’t believe your ears, especially when the words come from a real person rather than an actor, but equally there are times when you will laugh. And out loud. That the film has been put together quickly is apparent, making it one of the first titles to emerge during the current pandemic – and there’s even laughs to be had out of that. Based on this, Borat has probably had his day, but there’s no denying he can still make us laugh, for a variety of reasons. And at a time when we need to do that as much as we can, it makes his return welcome, if not altogether successful.
Comedy, Satire | Cert: 15 | Amazon Prime | 23 October 2020 | Dir. Jason Woliner | Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova.