‘Borat 2’ Is Still Funny, But The Shock Of Open Racism In America Has Worn Off

At first, it almost feels like a parody to watch Borat 2 (or, if we are doing the actual full title, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan). It’s hard to believe we’ve been living through 14 years of “my wife” impressions, but the first 2006 film became such a cultural moment that it eventually became “cool” again to quote the movie as irony. It’s like if Wayne’s World 3 happened today, and we were watching Mike Myers on screen saying “…not” again. It’s somehow both cringy and kind-of exciting.

Borat 2 the first movie of our new era I truly would have liked to watch in a theater. (There’s a chance I’ve said this before. But if I did, I’m changing my answer to Borat 2.) Do you remember watching Borat in theaters? It was a thing. It’s up there in the top two or three movies of “hardest I’ve ever laughed in a movie theater,” and an experience that could never have been recreated at home. The crowd I saw it with in 2006 was euphoric. Now, flash forward to 2020, and I watched the sequel by myself, in bed, on a laptop. (One disclaimer: to be fair, over the last few months, I’ve watched very few movies on a laptop. I’ve done a good job of feeding pretty much everything to a fairly large screen. But I sprained my ankle pretty bad over the weekend, and it just seemed easier this way because I didn’t want to get up. The only reason I bring any of this up is, of course, a plea for cheap sympathy. But also, even under these conditions, I still laughed a lot, which is pretty remarkable. This only made me miss seeing this in a theater even more.)

The screener came enclosed with instructions not to reveal any of the real-life people who Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), interact with during the film when it comes to Amazon Prime (on Oct. 23). And I’ll try to adhere to these rules because part of the “fun” of this movie are these interactions. But, of course, there’s one former mayor who “spoiled” his role in the film months ago. And his actions that we see here don’t quite match up with his assertion that he figured out he was being tricked and got out of there right away. It’s… a little more (okay, a lot more) nefarious than that.

Like the last film, there’s a “plot,” which was weird then and is weird now. This time, Borat returns to the United States from Kazakhstan (where he’s lived in exile after shaming his country with the first film) in an effort to deliver his daughter as a gift to Mike Pence, which would bring honor back to Kazakhstan. So, Borat and Tutar do what they do and mingle with a lot of people and, like in the first film, a bunch of pretty horrific things happen.

But there’s a difference this time. In 2006, Borat seemed shocking because we weren’t used to people being so open about their racism and prejudices. Whether or not it was actually the case then, it at least seemed a bit more fringe. It’s true that a lot of us were more naïve then and probably had greater confidence in our fellow human being to be “a good person,” but we certainly weren’t as accustomed to people coming out and saying these things on camera. Today, would it surprise you that Borat and his daughter can walk into a bakery and get a cake that reads, “Jews will not replace us,” with some smiley faces added? I’m guessing this won’t surprise you anymore. But the best part from this exchange comes when Tutar accidentally eats a small decorative plastic baby atop a cupcake, which leads the pair to a southern “woman’s health center” in an effort to “remove the baby.”

Honestly, I get the impression that Cohen also knows just getting people to say racist things really isn’t going to be that big of a shocking turn of events anymore. And the movie is at its best when it leans into current events, like Borat spending some time with a couple of QAnon believers. Or if they aren’t true believers, they at least are open to the fact that Hillary Clinton created the coronavirus and drinks the adrenaline-spiked blood of children for energy. This seems to be how most interviews with QAnon believers go: that they maybe don’t believe all of it, but who’s to say? (Also, I personally had never heard the “adrenaline” part of this conspiracy theory before now. That it’s the adrenaline that’s the key? Is it weird that this makes more sense now? Not in a, “maybe it’s true,” way, but more in a logistical, “Well, at least I can see why people might think people drink blood if they thought it gave them some pep,” way.)

But, of course, the real “get” here is the aforementioned former mayor that I’m not supposed to talk about. I’ve seen a lot of rumors floating around about what happens and.. some of them are pretty off-base. But the reality is that it’s still pretty gross what happens. And the craziest thing is that we’ve all become so desensitized to the things these people do, my initial reaction was “that tracks” more than pure disgust. But when you see this and really think about what was about to happen? Yikes.

And that’s the thing about Borat 2, it’s not shocking anymore. Because it certainly should be. There’s certainly a lot of hilarious things that happen, like the look on a computer store owner’s face when Borat learns he can look up porn on his new phone that he’s testing and heads to the bathroom, where his search results are still being displayed over the large monitor on the sales floor. But over the last 14 years, things have drastically changed enough where “shocking” is no longer a relevant emotion to these movies. But that’s where we’re at: where the reaction to a sequel to Borat is more, “yeah, that seems about right,” than either disbelief or disgust… which, when thought about, is maybe the most shocking thing of all.

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