Borat Sagdiyev, once the second-best journalist in Kazakhstan, makes a return trip to America in BORAT: SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM, and he finds a country not so much changed in its dynamics from his last visit, as one that is more extreme. The jokes are harsher, and in many cases funnier. And they need to be.
Since last we saw our plucky hero with daring choices in swimwear, he’s fallen on hard times, what with his previous documentary unintentionally holding up his beloved country to international derision. Sentenced to public humiliation and a life-sentence at hard labor, Borat is rescued when his country’s Premier (Dani Popescu) is feeling left-out from President Trump’s inner circle of dictators. Tasked with gifting Trump with a sexy monkey (don’t ask), Borat is sent back to America only to find that his 15-year-old daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), the only unmarried girl of her age in Kazakhstan, has smuggled herself into the monkey’s crate, leaving Borat monkey-less and facing certain, turnip-infused death when he returns home.
What ensues is a mad plot to substitute Tutar for the monkey, and Vice President Pence (who appears as himself) for Trump in a scramble that involves a licentious plastic surgeon, a roomful of astonished Texas debutantes, and Rudy Giuliani. Hearkening back to what made the original so bracing, Borat interacts with people who may or may not be in on the joke (Rudy definitely wasn’t) and reveals much of the dark side of America. Overlaid with that is a father-daughter story that is unexpectedly touching while not for a moment being sentimental.
Make no mistake, this is a Rabelaisian excursion into the absurd. Yet the, ahem, earthiness of a father-daughter fertility dance celebrating moon blood, is positively quaint when compared to the bland compliance of the woman asked to decorate a cake with a Proud Boy slogan, or the roar of approval from the attendees as Borat attends a Trump rally posing as a country-western singer and warbles about beheading Democrats the way the Saudis do.
The key to all this is Borat himself. A cheerful guy, who for all his anti-Semitic and sexist rhetoric, has the simulacrum of those sterling traits desirable in an upstanding citizen. He believes what his leaders tell him, readily assimilates his cultural norms, and follows the rules without conceiving of the possibility of questioning them. That especially applies to the manual that every father is issued by the ministry of agriculture upon the birth of a daughter, the one that specifies keeping her in a cage and teaches that her womanly parts have teeth. Once they begin their cross-country mission, the paradigms of Borat and his daughter are sorely tested when they encounter a woman who owns her own business, and another who drives her own car. By the time Tutar discovers the sweet mystery of life, and shares it with an ebullient innocence to a roomful of politely flabbergasted Republican Party ladies, a Rubicon of sorts has been crossed, the is mission derailed, and Borat is left with no choice but to commit death by Jew.
You can’t help but root for him, and so clever is the conceit, so blithely executed by Cohen with his deadpan sincerity, that when Borat discovers a conspiracy theory denying the Holocaust, he evokes an uncomfortable empathy as his world crashes around him. As his foil, Bakalova is ferociously animated going from charmingly ingenuous to ingenuously ambitious as easily as Tutar goes from wild-haired brunette to blowout blonde.
As for Rudy, let me put it this way, putting his hand down his pants as he reclines on a hotel-room bed after asking Tutar for her phone number is the least disturbing part of it.
BORAT: SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM doesn’t tell us anything about our country, or ourselves ,that we haven’t already suspected. Fortunately, though it lays it these failing out for us with such incontrovertible precision, we must be grateful that it combines the shock with humor that refuses to recognize boundaries. Or taste. It also has one of the best punch lines of an ending ever.