Comedy can expose hypocrisy and ignorance in ways that pointed analysis, fact-based study or “hard-hitting” journalism never manages to. There’s something intangible about absurdism and satire that, when properly applied, cuts right to the bone of societal issues, and no one working today can apply it quite like Sacha Baron Cohen.
As with its predecessor (2006’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan), Cohen’s new offering, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, is as much an exercise in activism as it is a hilarious romp through the American political landscape. This time around, though, the stakes seem higher as an extremely polarizing and contentious election season comes to an as-yet-undetermined end, making Subsequent Moviefilm more pointed and urgent than the previous film. Disturbingly, Cultural Learnings holds much more relevance than one would hope after 14 years, but where that film is a reactive response to U.S. policy and cultural attitudes, Subsequent Moviefilm is a proactive attempt at preventing specific electoral outcomes.
Reprising his role as the lovable yet purposefully problematic Kazakhstani TV reporter Borat Sagdiyev, Cohen once again finds a way to make trouble for bigots and politicians by leading them to water and allowing them to partake all by themselves. With strict deadpan delivery, Cohen (along with his amazing co-star, newcomer Maria Bakalova) lets loose at the politically charged and divisive times we’ve found ourselves in by setting up sketches in which people from all walks of life react naturally to Cohen’s outrageous stimuli. Granted, not all the jokes land, and some are mere rehashes of familiar material from the 2006 film, but the point is clear: As a nation, we still have a long way to go.
Subsequent Moviefilm is not for everyone and is sure to be hated by many, depending on where they land on the political spectrum. With identifiable plot arcs and honest-to-goodness character development, Subsequent Moviefilm may be more formally accomplished than we’ve previously seen from Cohen and Borat, but that probably won’t matter much to staunch defenders of status-quo racism, conspiracy theorists and those who insist that Rudy Guiliani needs to lie down on a bed to tuck in his shirt. Of course, viewers will make the call for themselves, but with all the press about this film — good and bad — it’s clear Cohen has struck a nerve that both desperately needs to be struck and yet mostly has escaped our attention.
Available to stream via Amazon Prime Video