The first half of Borat 2 is actually kind of boring. The highly anticipated sequel, officially titled Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and streaming this Friday on Amazon, begins by setting Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakhstani journalist loose on America yet again, this time to deliver his daughter (Irina Novak) as a gift to President Trump. In other words, it’s basically Logan with Holocaust jokes, but the movie really gets going when the coronavirus pandemic descends on America, seemingly right in the middle of production.
The magic formula of Borat is half brilliant improvisation with unsuspecting civilians and half clever editing and voiceover narration. So it’s unclear whether Cohen was really caught off-guard by Covid-19, but it certainly seems that way. The first half of the movie takes place in a mask-free America, where the Kazakhstani father and daughter duo are free to poke fun at the South’s backward approach to abortion or waltz into the biggest Republican conference of the year in a KKK robe.
It’s entertaining, if all a bit obvious, but Borat 2 really hits its stride when the pandemic descends on America. This comes as a surprise, both to the audience and to Borat, who suddenly finds himself wandering empty streets wondering where everyone has gone. Eventually, he finds a middle-aged white man walking out of a grocery store with a case of beer, and, after a bit of finagling, Borat gets an invitation to shelter in place with this stranger and his other white male friend.
Trapped with two southern Republicans for days (or maybe just a few hours, it’s unclear), Cohen is able to document the Conservative misinformation pipeline in real-time. The two men he’s quarantining with start off already hating Barack Obama, telling Borat the former president belongs in jail and contributing lyrics to a new song that may earn Borat 2 it’s “Throw the Jew down the well” viral moment.
But by the end of this chapter, they’ve seemingly been fed enough lies about the “pandemic hoax” to attend an anti-Fauci freedom rally. It’s worth noting that Borat’s two new friends do bring masks to this largely mask-less gathering, but they’re worn lowered around their necks as they mingle with strangers during what appears to be the height of the pandemic.
Cohen is at his best with these two white dudes who seem to not recognize Borat despite being his target audience, but most of the movie’s heavy lifting is done by Irina Novak. As an unknown actor, she’s capable of getting access to people that Cohen cannot anymore, and Novak delivers what will undoubtedly be the biggest and most news-making moment of the movie. (If I reveal any more, I’m pretty sure Jeff Bezos will send a drone to kill me. So I’ll just say that you should make plans to watch Borat 2 on Amazon quickly before someone else spoils it for you.)
Novak also uses her status as a young woman to expose America’s deep-rooted sexism, including one memorable scene at a Southern cotillion where another man tells Borat he’d pay $500 for her. And the actress seemingly infiltrates the far-right media as a reporter who helps spread claims that the coronavirus is a hoax, giving the audience an inside look at how (and why) so-called reporters have stooped to sharing dangerous misinformation.
There’s sure to be no shortage of Covid-19 movies in our near future, from dramatized biopics to work-from-home office sitcoms. Most of them will probably be terrible. Maybe a few will be good, but none will have the urgency of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Whether he planned it or not, Sacha Baron Cohen has given us an inside look at how Covid-19 broke America’s brain — just in time for an election where we decide whether to fix it or jump off the deep end.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm will be released on October 23 on Amazon Prime.