Simply stated, lies expose truths even in satire like Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Mistakes trigger calls for answers. The size of the inaccuracy tends to correlate with the amount of revealed embarrassment. Untruths of the little white variety bring out blushes and shushed dismissals. The real whoppers drop jaws and burn things to the ground. Until they are corrected, lies hang there festering their growing decay. The uncomfortable comedy of this sequel is built on telling comedic lies that spotlight the ugliness of the people that aren’t in on the joke.
In that real life on display, that decay is damaging. In a farcical setting, the shame is played for laughs. Just like the first big screen yuck fest Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan in 2006, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm landing on Amazon Prime smashes reality and fiction together with splattered eggs on all the faces involved. All the chuckles and all the cringes are back to entertain or revolt with equal power. Calling this an acquired taste is an understatement and that is much of the draw.
Sacha Baron Cohen, and a team of nine (yes, nine) other writers, resurrected his most successful and audacious disguise (originally conceived for and appearing his HBO Da Ali G Show in the early 2000s) and snuck a production through the COVID-19 pandemic just in time for Election Day. His mocking aim matches how lies expose truths. Through his hedonistic character once again gracing the U.S. of A., Cohen and company expose the problematic silliness of lies being lived to their fullest by fine people on both sides.
Stardom has a fallout in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. It’s been a meta fourteen years since the Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev (and Cohen himself) burst onto the American scene to become a household name and instant caricature. Once his (and Cohen’s again) fifteen seconds of fame ran out, the reporter returned to his homeland failing his intended mission. Another man took away his home and the government locked him up in a grueling work camp prison. Released on a new quest, Borat is jeered rather than cheered by his countrymen and his recognizable celebrity status makes inconspicuousness impossible.
Cultures lie. The fictional leaders of Kazakhstan see an America that has become great again. They think now is the time to correct national glory with an offering (known grander in the movie’s original subtitle as a “prodigious bribe to American regime”) to United States Vice President Michael Pence (and if he’s not around former New York city mayor and conservative blowhard Rudy Giuliani will do). The bartered prize is Johnny, the national treasure chimpanzee of the Central Asian nation. Spoof or otherwise, that’s one viewpoint of the American image being projected overseas. Different cultures with different lenses aren’t always going to interpret such examples correctly as they squint to make a foreign image out. They will run with it without full understanding because it’s shiny and new.
Men lie. Stowing away and taking the primate’s place on this adventure is Borat’s daughter Sarah Jessica Parker Sagdiyev (up-and-coming Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova of Transgression). With no monkey for the powerful politician who cannot be left in a room with women, Plan B becomes the beautification of his girl as a replacement gift. Luckily, thanks to intentionally ridiculous customs, Sarah is treated like bad cattle with no education of her worth other than a provided manual of false fears written and perpetuated by insecure men. For example, one of the first orders of business of Borat stateside in Texas is acquiring a cage and trailer to haul his daughter around in a setting fitting how women need to be in his eyes. Like the cultural lie, the question at the human level becomes where does one learn the world. Imagine the grandiose Borat as your dad.
Future execution is the price of failure this time around in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. That urgency of survival sends the father-and-daughter schemers on a road trip odyssey through the American South playing up the culture shock antics. TV director Jason Woliner (The Last Man on Earth) and sneaky documentary cinematographer Luke Geissbuhler (Fahrenheit 11/9) orchestrate and capture their dressed-up actors dawdling with new technology and pulling the wool over the eyes of yokels. The ongoing collection of skits have the loud personalities crashing debutante balls, Christian health clinics, women’s club meetings, union dinners, political rallies, and the like.
This wondrous jaunt becomes a miniature women’s liberation explosion for the ethnic SJP. It is also an overdue maturation for Borat where a heart of father-daughter bonding grows. Still far short of older and wiser, he indeed is a dad who comes to care for his daughter more as a person than an antiquated dowry or hindrance. That’s a tough sell for a Borat movie but it plays with a fair bit of spirit.
Circle back to chuckles and cringes. Not unlike the impending punishment coming to the main character, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm lives and dies by the sizes of its lies. Some of these encounters—more the smaller jabs than the bigger haymakers—are genuinely clever with the tongue-in-cheek potential to leave you in stitches. Too many of them, however, get too convoluted and feel as flimsy as the patchwork quilts of cocktail napkins the ideas likely came from. Either way, you still marvel at the deviant length Cohen will go to prey on the gullible and make a joke. In the end, it’s all about brandishing the deplorable impurity found in the non-actor public on camera that live among us all. They earn plenty of the humiliation coming to them.