Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (United States, 2020)October 24, 2020
The chief source of enjoyment from watching a Borat skit (or movie) is seeing how “normal” people, caught in a bizarre situation, attempt to extricate themselves from embarrassing circumstances. It’s Candid Camera on LSD. The first Borat, while not strictly apolitical, was principally interested in exposing societal ills and hypocrisies by toying with the age-old concept that truth is stranger than fiction (even if the “truth” was heavily manipulated to achieve a particular effect). The sequel often plays like pro-Biden campaign propaganda. This film isn’t going to be warmly embraced by many Republicans. Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t simply skewer them; he spit-roasts them over a roaring fire.
It has taken Cohen 14 years to bring the character of Borat back to the big screen after the unexpected success of the 2006 movie. For many years, the actor/comedian argued that Borat was a victim of his own success – he was so well-known that he could no longer fool people. With Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (hereafter referred to simply as Borat 2), Cohen finds a way to exhume the character. In many scenes, Borat is in disguise, thereby diminishing the potential of recognition. In other scenes, actress Maria Bakalova fills the “Borat” role.
Borat 2 isn’t as fresh as Borat, but that’s only to be expected. The concept has lost its originality; to compensate, Cohen sets his sights on bigger targets for his pranks: Mike Pence and Rudy Giuliani. He never gets close to Pence, so the best we get is a long-distance reaction shot (part confusion and part annoyance). Giuliani, on the other hand…I’ll get to that a little later. The best scenes are still the ones in which Borat interacts with “average” Americans: a plastic surgeon, an anti-abortion minister, a couple of QAnon sympathizers. He sings a song about giving Obama the “Wuhan Flu,” does a scandalous dance with Bakalova, and steps aside to allow her the spotlight when she addresses a group of conservative women. There’s also a scene in which Borat, dressed as a caricatured Jew, interacts with holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans. It’s can be difficult to ascertain the degree to which some of the interviews are staged or manipulated, but that’s part and parcel of the Borat mystique.
The story, to the extent that it even matters for a movie of this sort, goes something like this… After spending more than a decade in prison related to fallout from the first film, Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) is released on the condition that he travel to the United States and offer a bribe to “Vice Premiere” Mike Pence. The bribe in question is a special monkey. When the chimp dies en route to the U.S., plans change and Borat is tasked with offering his 15-year old daughter, Tutar (played by 24-year old Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova). When attempts to interest Pence in an underage bride prove to be unsuccessful, Borat aims a little lower – Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. By this time, however, Tutar has gotten a taste of feminism and freedom and is no longer on board with being her father’s property.
The scene with Giuliani has generated plenty of media interest (free marketing at its finest) but those expecting something scandalous may be disappointed. Like many of Borat’s victims, the former New York mayor appears befuddled by the situation and attempts to be as gracious as possible to the attractive, young reporter who is interviewing him. He’s clearly flattered by her apparent interest and his awkward, borderline-creepy attempts at flirting are cringeworthy. The oft-referenced clip of his toying with his trousers is ambiguous but his explanation (that he was tucking in his shirt) appears to be a reflection of what’s happening. That being said, it’s surprising that Giuliani was careless enough to be put in this situation in the first place; it reveals a shocking lack of judgment on the part of a highly-placed official.
As with the first Borat, Borat 2 uses the fish-out-of-water syndrome as a means to emphasize cultural norms that are rife with racism and misogyny. There’s nothing subtle about the means by which Cohen takes a sledgehammer to these hot-button issues. He makes Borat the vilest proponent of them which puts his “real” subjects at ease and allows them to open up. Borat 2 is at times funny but it is more often uncomfortable. And there are times when the laughter is of the nervous variety. There’s always a question of reality with a movie of this sort. Larry Charles (who directed Borat and is replaced here by Jason Woliner) argued that everything in the first film was “real.” If that’s the case with Borat 2, then it’s indeed a depressing thought.
As a piece of political satire, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a hit-and-miss affair but, on those occasions when it draws blood, it does so with relish. As a comedy, it may cause the viewer to cringe as often as laugh, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the dedication shown by star Sacha Baron Cohen. Like it or hate it, the second Borat film, like the first one, offers the captivating quality of a train wreck or fatal car crash – even when you’re horrified, you can’t look away.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (United States, 2020)
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova
Screenplay: Peter Baynham & Sacha Baron Cohen & Jena Friedman & Anthony Hines & Lee Kern & Dan Mazar & Erica Rivinoja & Dan Swimer
Cinematography: Luke Geissbuhler
Music: Erran Baron Cohen
U.S. Distributor: Amazon Studios
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