Perhaps it suffers from having a different director: Jason Woliner has taken the reins from legendary Seinfeld / Curb Your Enthusiasm alumnus, Larry Charles. But another, more significant reason why it is less enjoyable is that the world has changed since 2006. YouTube had barely launched back in that dim, distant era, so it was rare to see pranksters catching people off guard in public. Nowadays, you can watch countless Borat-style routines at the click of a mouse. A related point is that, in the first film, Baron Cohen amazed us by getting Americans to make the most outrageously toxic statements on camera. These days, in contrast, some Americans make those statements on camera every day. They don’t need anyone to coax or trick them into expressing opinions that might have been classed as extreme 14 years ago; they do so loudly and proudly.
Subsequent Moviefilm isn’t a write-off, though. It is saved by its satirical focus (which I’ll get to shortly), and by its secret weapon, Maria Bakalova, a Bulgarian actress who plays Borat’s 15-year-old daughter (“the oldest unmarried woman in Kazakhstan”). I missed Ken Davitian’s Azamat, and I was piqued that a new sidekick had been introduced in his place. But Bakalova is a real discovery. Most of the scenes that had me covering my eyes in mortified glee were the ones in which she took the lead. She is so wide-eyed and heartfelt in her interactions with strangers that her plotline becomes strangely emotional, and so fearless and quick-witted in the stunt sequences that she gives the film the surprise value that it lacks elsewhere. We already know that Baron Cohen can do this stuff; the thrill comes from seeing that someone else can do it, too.
Indeed, that climactic gotcha might explain why Subsequent Moviefilm has been released in such a hurry. The 2006 Borat was made during George W Bush’s presidency, but it didn’t comment explicitly on his administration. This one is far more topical. It has parts that could have been shot at any time, but most of it is about coronavirus, Facebook conspiracy theories, white supremacy, the sexual harassment that led to the MeToo movement, and various Trump-related scandals. Baron Cohen and his team are clearly more intent on influencing viewers at the ballot box than they are in making them laugh. They even finish with a caption: “NOW VOTE. OR YOU WILL BE EXECUTE.” [sic]
Having been made with a specific political purpose, Subsequent MovieFilm won’t age as well as the previous Borat did. Whereas that one will stand as an evergreen comedy, this one might be as ephemeral as a newspaper’s editorial cartoon or an episode of Spitting Image. But it’s the ripped-from-the-headlines relevance that makes it so fascinating, and it’s the boiling rage at current politics that makes it so bracing. There aren’t many films as urgently satirical as this one. You might not want to re-watch it in a few years’ time, but you should definitely watch it now.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is released on Amazon on 23 October 2020.
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