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Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova, Judith Dim Evans, Jerry Holleman, Jim Russell, Pastor Jonathan Bright, Macey Chanel, Dani Popescu, Manuel Vieru, Miroslav Tolj, Alin Popa, Ion Gheorghe, Nicolae Gheorghe, Marcela Codrea, Luca Nelu, Nicoleta Ciobanu, Tom Hanks, Mike Pence and Rudy Giuliani.

Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Dan Swimer & Peter Baynham & Erica Rivinoja & Dan Mazer & Jena Friedman & Lee Kern.

Directed by Jason Woliner.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 96 minutes. Rated R.

Fourteen years on from its theatrical release, it’s easy to forget what a sensation Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – usually shortened to simply Borat – was upon release. Based on a character by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen – who was at the time a cult artist best known for another character Da Ali G – Borat was a new form of cinema. It was guerrilla comedy, an improvised fake documentary in which Cohen, in character as a backwards communist bloc journalist, interacted with real people in the United States to make pointed commentaries on American culture.

Honestly, I did not see Borat in the theater. However, I was excited to see it. By the time it was released on video, I was kind of underwhelmed by the movie. It had some moments, but way too much relied on stupidity and shock value. Still, I could see how it would be funnier if you had experienced it in a theater with a crowd rather than sitting alone in your home.

Cohen’s career has had its share of ups and downs ever since. His follow-up film Bruno, which was a similar type of film to Borat, but it was just horrible, unwatchable and a huge box office disappointment. So were his follow-ups The Dictator and Grimsby.

Otherwise, Cohen has made a respectable career as an eccentric supporting actor, playing intriguing roles in the likes of Sweeney Todd, Hugo, Dinner for Schmucks, Les Misérables, Anchorman 2, Alice Through the Looking Glass and the current The Trial of the Chicago Seven. He was also originally signed to play Queen singer Freddie Mercury in the film Bohemian Rhapsody but was given the boot after too many “creative differences” with members of the group.

The first sign that Cohen’s career was regaining traction was his 2018 political satire series Who is America?, which used many of Cohen’s old-standby methods. He interviewed real people – many of them politicians – in outrageous character to get them to confess to their misdeeds. The show was sharp, cutting and surprisingly funny, and received critical and popular acclaim.

Two years later and the world is even more fucked up. Cohen has decided to resurrect his most popular character to turn a microscope on America in the age of Trumpism, QAnon, white supremacy and the coronavirus.

Like the original Borat film, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm mocks the most controversial and misguided ideas of the people in the film by having Borat (and his daughter, in this film) enthusiastically agree with them. Also like the original, Borat 2 sometimes relies too much on stupidity and shock value. (I may have to boil my eyes after watching the Rudy Giuliani section – I will never be able to unsee that.) And like the first Borat, I think it would probably work better in a crowded theater – although of course at this moment in history that is pretty much impossible.

However, what can I say? I mostly liked Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, even more than the first one. Again, it’s not a great movie, but it’s mostly an enjoyable and thought-provoking one.

The slight story had Borat doing hard labor for 14 years in his native Kazakhstan because the original movie made the country a laughingstock. Finally the country’s premier decides to free Borat and send him back to the United States to deliver a beloved monkey to Mike Pence, in order to get into Donald Trump’s good graces. Of course, the premier’s plot is much more sinister than it originally appears.

Interestingly, Cohen and Borat have become so well known (both in real life and in the movie) that it is getting difficult for him to do his particular style of in-character prank interview. Therefore, much of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm falls on the shoulders of Borat’s slightly feral teenaged daughter Tutar, played by a little-known Bulgarian actress named Maria Bakalova. (Oddly, early press releases for the film gave the actress’ name as Irina Nowak, which appears to be a complete fabrication.)

Bakalova gets probably as much screen time as Cohen, and also gets to do every bit as much unhinged comedy as her more famous co-star. In fact, in many scenes, Cohen acquiesces to be essentially the straight man to his younger, slightly manic co-star. Bakalova gives a shot of energy – and a shot of estrogen – to the film that works surprisingly well. In fact, some of the later scenes border on… dare I say it?... heartfelt.

Much like the original, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is an episodic road trip across America, with Borat having brief interactions with people and showing their true colors by appearing to agree with them. There is not all that much of a story through line – there are eight screenplay credits for a movie that was probably mostly improvised??? – it is just Borat and his daughter’s adventures in the US.

Some of these are funny. Some of these are pointed. (It barely raises an eye when Borat crashes the CPAC – Conservative Political Action Conference – in full KKK regalia.) Some are sweet. (Holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans teaches Borat that Jews are just people, too.) Some are scary. (Pretending to be the entertainment at a conservative protest, Borat gets the crowd singing along with some shockingly violent song.)

And by the way Rudy, that was no tuck.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is mostly funny, pointed satire in a time when the world needs more laughs. However, the most important part of Borat 2 is simply the final chyron message before the end credits: “Now vote.” So, go on. Now vote.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: October 23, 2020.

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