America is not in a very good place right now. Between COVID-19 infections skyrocketing to nearly 100,000 per day, political extremist groups feeling more confident to publicly showcase violent power, and a constant barrage of “the end is near” rhetoric from both sides, it’s difficult to feel comfortable, even when locked in your own home. Most of my friends have either lost their jobs due to Coronavirus consequences or now find themselves spending thousands of dollars just to attend crappy Zoom calls and finish their degrees. We are 3 days away from an election, the result of which seems inevitable to cause even more violent outbursts, regardless of who actually wins. People on the right are convinced our president can only lose through fraud, cheating, and electioneering. And people on the left are convinced there’s no way in hell the president could possibly win the reelection based on his performance with COVID, protests, and many other issues (which is exactly the attitude that lost the 2016 election, by the way).
But amid all the chaos, finger-pointing, screaming, and general hopelessness, Borat suddenly appears to us once again, this time during what appears to be the first of many “darkest hours.” As many critics have already pointed out, the original “Borat” film was designed to expose the racist, sexist, and homophobic underbelly of America. At the time, it seemed almost shocking that there were so many people willing to go along with Borat’s incredibly outdated cultural views, and Sacha Baron Cohen proved himself to be a master of extracting people’s darkest beliefs through blind, enthusiastic motivation. By encouraging people to show their true selves through their biases and crude remarks, Borat gave America a pretty good look in the mirror. The following lawsuits that proceeded the film from its many unknowing participants demonstrated just how expertly SBC had embarrassed people for exposing their own ideology on camera.
However, the age of modesty and “political correctness” is over it seems, and Borat Subsequent MovieFilm, AKA Borat 2, does a fantastic job of showing off just how much we’ve fallen in that regard. Political extremism, conspiracy theories, and overt sexism within mainstream culture are just a few of the topics in Borat 2’s sampler platter of modern America awfulness. Though to be fair, with a presidential administration so incompetent that it allows a fake foreign news reporter to literally shake hands with Donald Trump Jr. at a conference and then go on to “interview” the president’s own lawyer in a compromising position, it seems as though reality is doing most of Sacha Baron Cohen’s work for him. And to his credit, he seems to acknowledge this within his own movie. Rather than use Borat 2 to relentlessly mock the average American citizen, SBC attempts to demonstrate a more human side of his classic style of comedy, focusing on what connects people rather than what drives them apart.
This is most prominently demonstrated by the fact that Borat now has a teenage daughter, Tutar, who he essentially treats like livestock, as is tradition in this fictional version of Kazakhstan. Borat, originally tasked with delivering Kazakhstan’s minister of culture/#1 porno star “Jonny the Monkey” (a literally chimpanzee) to Mike Pence as a gift, suddenly finds himself entangled with Tutar instead, who snuck into Jonny’s crate and ate him for sustenance. With no chimpanzee left to deliver and Kazakhstan authorities threatening to execute him unless he finds a suitable gift for Mike Pence, Borat suddenly gets the brilliant idea to clean up his daughter and present her as a gift instead. After all, Borat knows that “Mike Pence is such a pussy magnet that he once said he couldn’t be left alone in a room with another woman.”
And so begins Borat and Tutar’s journey across America, this time learning the culture and etiquette of American women, as well as the various rules and laws that apply specifically to them. Without spoiling too much, things quickly go off the rails as Borat and his daughter are given access to political rallies and high-class social events time and time again. This is also when the real meat of the movie begins, and despite our openly-volatile political climate, Borat 2 somehow manages to be just as funny as it was 14 years ago, if not more so. In order to avoid recognition, Borat uses a variety of disguises throughout his journey, with SBC essentially playing two characters at once: Borat, and whatever misguided American stereotype Borat is attempting to portray.
This leads to all manner of hilarious situations, including Borat being invited to sing a country song during a “Unite the Right” esque rally held by right-wing extremists, with the audience singing along to lyrics about “injecting Obama with the Wuhan Flu,” “chopping up journalists like the Saudi’s do,” and “gassing scientists like the Germans do.” Though to be fair, the American political landscape has become so hostile that despite the rally’s natural ending in the movie, the Borat 2 crew was actually discovered and attacked during the filming process, with SBC almost getting killed by a handgun-wielding maniac in the process. While the movie doesn’t show this happening, mainly because it would conflict with the overall narrative, the behind the scenes footage uploaded by Cohen is a sad reflection of where we’re at as a nation right now.
And yet despite this bleakness, Borat 2 also manages to be genuinely heartwarming. Putting aside all the extremism, the character of Borat is primarily used to expose that deep down, many Americans are very similar to one another and are simply misinformed through social media and propaganda outlets. After Tutar and Borat eventually have a falling out, Borat is forced to confront his old beliefs and attempt to understand things from the perspectives of others, rather than continuing to treat her like livestock. Whether the lessons he learns about fatherhood and humanity come from a pair of old Jewish women, an incredibly sweet and down-to-earth babysitter, or a pair of QAnon-believing conspiracy theorists, Borat eventually comes to realize that beliefs and tradition mean nothing if they stand in the way of himself and his loved ones.
In times as dark as these, Borat 2 is somehow a beacon of hope amid a sea of unrest and turmoil. It’s hilarious when it needs to be, somber when it needs to be, and has one of the most fantastic endings I’ve ever seen, with a satisfying payoff to almost every single concept set up by the film’s premise. While it does have its flaws, primarily in terms of pacing and a general lack of logic when put into context of the overall narrative, Borat 2 is a considerably more important movie than its predecessor. The ugliness of America has been exposed for a long time; there’s very little material left to work with there and Sacha Baron Cohen knows that. By focusing on what brings us together, rather than what (or who) separates us, Borat 2 manages to effortlessly capture how the vast majority of America is feeling right now. Here’s hoping that a similar beacon of hope and humanity will shine through for the rest of us as we continue pushing onwards into these incredibly uncertain next few days.
8/10 – Great