- As funny as the first one (perhaps more so…)
- An excellent continuation to the first one, without feeling like an unnecessary sequel with the same tired jokes
- Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedic and improvisational talents on full show
- Maria Bakalova does a great job holding her own (and at times steals the show)
- A hilarious, shockingly satirical and sometimes poignant reflection on the highs and lows of modern society
“2020 is going to be my year” was the defiant, yet ironic statement made by many 10 to 11 months ago. How little we knew back then… Whereas many of us have had our world turned upside down, Sacha Baron Cohen has seemingly found a way to make 2020 his year (at least for now…).
Although Borat was last seen on the silver screen way back in 2006, there has been no sight nor sound of him since, with Cohen instead diversifying with the likes of Bruno et al. However, similarly to how King Arthur is reputed to return when we most need him, out of the blue comes the hero we need – Borat.
And how lucky we are.
In a world so crazy that even Charlie Brooker can’t bring himself to write any more Black Mirror episodes, we are indeed very fortunate to have someone like Cohen to shine a light on the absurd and downright terrifying aspects of modern-day society through satire. And it doesn’t come more absurd and satirical than Kazakhstan’s notorious reporter.
Now a national disgrace after the first film (Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) brought shame to Kazakhstan, Borat(Cohen) is given a chance to redeem himself: gift Johnny the Monkey to Vice-President Mike Pence in order to strengthen relations with “US and A.” However, when it turns out that his own daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) is delivered instead of Johnny the Monkey, Borat has to navigate feminism, 2020 elections and a deadly virus to set things right.
In a film with so much immaturity (no matter how funny), one element of maturity is how unlike a typical sequel this is. There are the occasional nods to the previous film (we hear the “not” joke repeated once in the introduction and see a clip from the first one of Borat outside Trump Tower) but it is not rehashing the same tired jokes over and over. Not to say that the humour is radically different; it’s much of the same: expect stomach-churning appearance of genitals, outrageously inappropriate sex jokes and an abundance of offensive humour (my personal favourite). But though the brand of humour is the same, the jokes are new and are just as much a reflection on society as the first one.
Although there are some silly jokes (such as overly-casual or aggressive faxes to and from the Kazakh government instead of texting, or Googling ‘spitroast creampie’ while thinking it’s food), it’s remarkable, and to Cohen’s credit, what he can get the apparently average American to say or do; from an anti-Semitic message on a chocolate cake to an apparent Instagram ‘influencer’ insisting that women have to be weak and subservient… But there’s more than just poking fun at the bigotry of some sections of American society. We are well aware of some right-wing extremists’ racist and sexist views, but his crude and shocking humour is provocative, shocking and, at times, revealing. In fact, some of the most revealing moments are the least provocative, particularly a Jewish lady and a babysitter who contrast with the bigotry of the ‘average American’ and shine a light on the more positive, kinder sections of society. These moments stand out even more in contrast to the other scenes we expect to see and give the film some much needed heart.
And of course all of these moments are a testament to the improvisational skills of the remarkable Cohen. Jewish himself, Cohen is admirably daring with or without a bullet-proof vest; with a quick-witted mind and ability to direct every conversation in the right way, he is as funny as ever as Borat, even in his various ‘disguises.’ Similarly, Bakalova’s Tutar is a brilliant match to Cohen’s Borat, able to improvise as excellently and at times command the film herself without Borat by her side.
Although we are now more familiar with seeing Covid-19, masks and Republicans on TV, it’s not often we get to see them quite like this. To make a funny film that makes a splash in the middle of a pandemic which accurately reflects the highs and lows of society is an achievement and, as a result, holds well as both an enjoyable, well-made film as well as a social/historical document. In short – it’s-a very niiiiice!