I would imagine the most ardent fans of Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat scratched their heads when news of a sequel trickled out earlier this summer. Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 social satire feels like a lifetime ago, with its lasting impact reduced to memeification. The biggest question facing a follow-up seemed to hinge around whether or not it’d be able to chart new territory 14 years later. Turns out the truly unprecedented events of this year yielded the exact conditions needed for a compelling sequel.
The plot of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan—its full title, out now on Amazon Prime—matters only in the broadest sense. Upon returning from the events of the first movie, Borat’s actions overseas have embarrassed his home country of Kazakhstan. His punishment comes in the form of a sentence to a lifetime of hard labor—until he receives a shot at redemption. Having familiarity with the U.S., Borat is tasked to bring a gift in the form of a celebrity monkey to Vice President Mike Pence to restore Kazakhstan’s standing with America. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the monkey doesn’t make it alive. So Borat’s estranged, 15-year-old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova, providing a masterful and fearless comedic performance), who has stowed away on the trip over, becomes the gift instead.
As Borat works to ready Tutar for Pence, the film becomes a two-hander as they explore contemporary America under Trump and creates situation after situation for Americans to comedically embarrass themselves on camera once again: A bakery worker doesn’t flinch when asked to write “Jews will not replace us” on top of a cake. A dress shop owner audibly laughs when Borat asks for a “No means yes” option. A father at a Georgia debutante ball willingly offers a price of “$500” when asked how much Tutar is worth. While these moments sometimes linger for too long, they hammer home the notion that America hasn’t changed a damn bit since 2006.
If anything, things have gotten worse. The movie’s middle section sees Borat spending time with QAnon believers and COVID skeptics who actively sing about wishing the virus on journalists. It’s still scary to see those beliefs openly vocalized, yet they pale in comparison to the horror of Rudy Giuliani’s involvement. The sequence is somehow even worse than first detailed; the former mayor is ghoulish in his actions and demeanor. No amount of damage control will be able to spin away the events once you’ve seen them in full. In a just world, Giuliani would never be heard from again. We don’t live in that reality, sadly. If we did, we wouldn’t have the conditions that allow Subsequent Moviefilm to not only exist—but to flourish.
Therein lies the brilliance of Subsequent Moviefilm. Cohen, Bakalova, director Jason Woliner, and the scriptwriting team manage to engineer a comedy that fully embraces, head-on, the reality of this particular moment. What unfolds is a sequel that transcends its predecessor’s legacy of well-worn quotes into something that feels like it could be the comedic masterwork of the Trump presidency. If this presidency has provided a platform for racists, bigots, and others to freely tout their beliefs, it’s also allowed an environment for Cohen to be fearless in his exposition of America. We thought Borat had nothing left? It turns out the joke is on us.