Movie Review: ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’
Director: Jason Woliner
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova, Dani Popescu
Plot: After spending years in a gulag for making Kazakhstan look bad on the global stage, Borat returns to the USA a diplomatic mission to deliver a gift to Vice-President Mike Pence.
Review: It was 16 years ago that Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was released, a prank based documentary following a fictional Central Asian journalist through the United States. The success of the film was due to stars Sacha Baron Cohen’s incredible skill for disappearing into absurd characters and due to the way it poked fun at American culture and stereotypes. In the intervening years the USA has wound up in an…unusual state. It’s the perfect time for Borat to make a return to spotlight the extremist behaviour bubbling out of the Trump presidency and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rather than a simple, overarching motif of partaking in US culture, Borat (Baron Cohen) arrives with a specific purpose. He has been released from prison by Kazakh Premier Nursultan Nazarbayev (Popescu) to deliver Johnny the Monkey to Donald Trump. When Borat’s daughter Tutor (Bakalova) smuggles herself into the country in place of the monkey, Borat instead attempts to offer her as a gift to Mike Pence and then former mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
This is when the movie becomes difficult to review in any traditional sense, as it needs to be examined from two different angles: from a cinema standpoint and a piece of cultural commentary. When we examine it as the former, it falls short of the expectations set by the original adventure. The adventure Borat goes on simply isn’t as funny, and the narrative thread running through the film makes some of the encounters feel contrived. Baron Cohen is phenomenal in his character performance, but we’re well familiar with the character and the endless impersonations of him we had to endure.
Acting alongside the madman while maintaining composure must be no easy feat, making newcomer Maria Bakalova’s performance as his teenaged daughter Tutor all the more impressive. She raises the challenge admirably, matching Baron Cohen’s energy perfectly. Some of the more heartfelt moments between the two characters add a welcome emotional angle to the journey.
What makes the movie really shine is the dissection of the USA in 2020, a time of extreme political divide, violence, hatred and fear. There are no end of targets for Borat to take aim at. Such is the insanity on display that you’d be hard pressed to work out who is in on the joke and who is being set up for mass public humiliation. Technology store workers being put in an uncomfortable position as Borat looks up pornography on their display screens is rough, but it’s the behaviour of key Republicans and their supporters that will make your jaw drop.
Borat turns up to a public appearance of Mike Pence wearing Ku Klux Klan robes and loudly claiming to be actual ghoul Stephen Miller seemingly without being stopped. He briefly moves in with a pair of conspiracy theorists and listens to them hamfistedly explain where the COVID-19 virus came from, why Democrats are secretly child traffickers and more lunacy. He then attends a rally where he takes the stage to lead the audience in chants about injecting Obama with the ‘Wuhan flu’.
The grand finale involves Tutor being set up to interview and seduce Rudy Giuliani in a sequence which is downright horrifying. Giuliani spends a portion of the interview giving credence to conspiracy theories, directly claiming that the COVID-19 was created in a laboratory by the Chinese government because he wouldn’t ‘eat a bat’. He also is very touchy and flattering of Tutor (Bakalova being 24 years old, less than a third of Giuliani’s age), with the scene culminating in him joining her for a ‘drink’ in a hotel room where he lies on the bed and puts his hands in his pants.
For such a major political figure, his behaviour is deplorable during the interview and disgusting afterwards, only being stopped by Borat himself bursting into the room. This may have been a more shocking climatic moment if it wasn’t extensively covered in the media in the lead up to the films release.
There’s fun to be had here, but aside from the Giuliani grossness and Bakalova’s break-out performance there’s no great revelation to be had here in spite of the hype. Watch it for a chuckle and to remember that we are living in a nightmarish hellscape.
Rating: SIX out of TEN