‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ Review: More Borat? Great Success.
Borat doesn’t feel like an “old movie.” The new sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, suggests that it might be. When its subject, bumbling (and hideously misogynist, not to mention grotesquely anti-Semitic) Kazakh reporter Borat Sagdiyev, returns to America after a long time away he is shocked to discover how much the country has changed since his first film premiered way back in 2006. “America had become calculator crazy!” Borat marvels, as his roving camera observes people wandering around with their faces shoved in their cell phones, oblivious to the world around them.
It goes deeper than that; the whole conceit of Borat seems positively quaint in 2020. The character struck a chord doing prank-style interviews with public figures who had no idea the clueless journalist in front of them was actually British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, whose commitment to a bit knows no bounds. Tricked into thinking they were in the presence of a genial foreigner, Borat’s interview subjects would often let their guard down, revealing the prejudices they otherwise kept hidden from view.
Today, we live in a world where gotcha interviews are no longer needed to expose the racism embedded in our society. A huge section of the populace routinely boasts their prejudices on a daily basis on their “calculators.” What possible role could Borat serve when the President of the United States publicly calls journalists “dumb bastards” and demands the immediate imprisonment of his political opponents?
Well, for one thing, he can make us laugh, a relief that’s more welcome now than ever. While Borat Subsequent Moviefilm does not reach the shocking heights of the original, it nevertheless remains consistently funny through its entire 95-minute runtime. And although the President himself remains on the film’s periphery, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm does feature an appalling appearance by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Moviefilm saves that jaw-dropping encounter for its climax. The rest of the film follows the same basic contours of its predecessor, with Borat traveling across America and encountering all kinds of unfamiliar customs in faux-documentary style. In a clever use of real-life events, Borat’s massive financial success became an embarrassment for Kazakhstan, whose government imprisoned Borat for years as punishment for making his homeland into an international laughingstock. In 2020, he is finally released to deliver a gift on behalf of Kazakh leaders to the United States’ great new leader, “McDonald Trump.”
Borat’s sidekick in the first film was his portly television producer, This time, he winds up roaming the country with a teenage daughter he never realized he had. That’s Tutar (Maria Bakalova), who stows away on Borat’s journey to U S and A, and then discovers the, let’s say, curious intricacies of modern American feminism. The addition of Tutar is the best new part of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Because everyone knows Borat now — an early scene shows random passersby recognizing him and then chasing him around for autographs and selfies — it’s almost impossible for him to sneak up on his targets.
Some of Cohen’s attempts to work around his fame smack of desperation; there are a lot of scenes of “Borat” interacting with doctors or businesspeople while dressed in elaborate, unconvincing wigs and beards. In one surreal moment, he goes to a Halloween store to buy disguises, and encounters a “Stupid Foreign Reporter” costume, inspired by himself. (In one of Subsequent Moviefilm’s subtler jokes, the faux-Borat suit has been marked down to $5.)
Adding Tutar into the mix allows director Jason Woliner to occasionally recapture the magic of the old Borat formula. No one knows her yet, so she doesn’t need to hide her identity the way Cohen does. It also helps that Bakalova is every bit Cohen’s equal in the fearlessness department, and she fully embraces the film’s confrontational comedy. In one of Subsequent Moviefilm’s standout showcase sequences, Borat and Tutar attend a Southern Debutante Ball, and perform a father-daughter dance of uproarious inappropriateness. And Bakalova’s scene with Giuliani is just incredible. You wouldn’t even need Borat to make another subsequent moviefilm. Just give Tutar her own showcase.
In another era, Giuliani’s astonishing encounter with Tutar would be an enormous P.R. disaster for him. In 2020, it will be forgotten by next week (if not sooner). That is not Sacha Baron Cohen’s fault, but it is an undeniable truth of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to shame the shameless.
Even if Cohen’s targets remain untarnished, even if his attempts to push undecided voters to the ballot box do not succeed, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is still an amusing sequel, with a few moments of surprising sweetness amongst the chaos and horror. The plot line about delivering a gift to Trump does fade during the third act after the coronavirus pandemic intrudes on Borat’s trip (and clearly upended Cohen’s original plans). Despite our ongoing social upheaval, the “vee-roos” does get worked into the narrative pretty seamlessly, as when Borat quarantines with a pair of gruff conservatives.
Thanks to Covid-19, very few people will have the chance to see Borat Subsequent Moviefilm in a crowded theater with a bunch of other enthusiastic comedy fans. A viewing alone at home on one of our “calculators” will have to suffice for now.
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