Amazon UK film review: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Maria Bakalova as Borat’s daughter9
Some shock and awe satire7
Lack of focus5
Ian Winterton | On 23, Oct 2020
Director: Jason Woliner
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova, Tom Hanks
Watch Borat 2 online in the UK: Amazon Prime
That Borat’s return after 14 years lacks the freshness of the original is perhaps inevitable, but one is nevertheless struck by the sense that Sacha Baron Cohen’s sequel could have been so much better.
As the original was driven by a simple and effective plot, so here we have Borat – released from the labour camp he’s been in since shaming his home country in 2006 – sent on a mission to the USA to curry favour with Vice-President Mike Pence by making a gift of Kazakhstan’s most famous TV star: a monkey. But, when the shipping crate is opened stateside, the monkey has been eaten by Borat’s 15-year old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova – absolutely superb). Inspired by Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for grabbing women by the “vagine”, the plan switches: Borat’s gift to the White House will be his own daughter.
In style and tone, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is indistinguishable from the groundbreaking original. Some standalone sequences are jaw-droppingly shocking and hilarious, and the “moonblood” fertility dance in front of a debutante ball is the nearest this film comes to its predecessor’s naked wrestling scene (genuinely one of the funniest moments in cinema history). But there’s much that doesn’t work too, and the reasons for this are in the movie’s intent.
In 2006, the film’s mission was to skewer the prejudices of small-town America by having Borat espousing his prejudiced views and filming genuine US citizens agreeing enthusiastically. The new version contains several of these moments, and they’re as depressingly shocking as ever – the prim woman in a cake shop who, at Borat’s request, ices “The Jews Will Not Replace Us” on top of a cake without blinking is chilling – but they’re mixed in with more straightforwardly silly, and less satirical, scenes, the intent of which seems more to mock the fictional backwardness of Kazakhstan.
A great deal of the running time is spent on Tutar’s discovery that women don’t have to live in cages, that their brains won’t explode if they drive cars and that her vagina doesn’t have teeth. As a target, it’s lame and its purpose within the movie as a whole seems unclear. Occasionally it strikes home, as when an actual Instagram influencer, a self-styled “Sugar Baby”, gives Tutar lessons on how to ensnare older men for their money. “As a woman you have to be kind of weak” is her advice. Similarly, the female owner of a dress shop merely laughs when Borat, there to dress his daughter, asks where the “no means yes” section is. Yes, sexism is rife in modern day America, but the satire fails as, in comparison to the film’s fictionalised version of Kazakhstan, the USA is a bastion of feminism.
Worse, Borat dresses up as a “Jew” – bat wings, talons, horns and a huge nose – and enters a synagogue, wherein he finds three lovely elderly women, one of whom reveals she’s a Holocaust survivor. This scene seems to exist merely to crowbar in a plot point so that Borat discovers the Holocaust wasn’t a hoax as his Trump-supporting buddies told him. Borat, of course, is relieved because, he says, murdering the Jews was the “proudest moment” in Kazakhstan history. Quite what the filmmakers sought to achieve by playing this prank on Holocaust survivors is unclear; Baron Cohen’s Borat has always been an unashamed proponent of the comedy of offensiveness, but including a cheap joke with a punchline that depends on 6 million murdered Jews is a misfire.
This lack of satirical focus is to the film’s detriment, which is real shame as there is much US citizens should see before voting in the presidential elections on 3rd November. The final 20 minutes is as acerbic – and hilarious – a critique of the United States as the 2006 film. As well as a fabulous The Usual Suspects-style twist (in which Tom Hanks appears briefly as himself), we get an update on the first film’s “Running of the Jew” festival, now repurposed as the “Running of the American”, in which we see contestants running from a wobbly-headed “Karen”, wearing an All Lives Matter T-shirt and holding an AR-15. “On no – Karen’s been to Walmart!” shrieks Borat.
And, of course, there’s the now-infamous scene involving Rudy Giuliani. For what it’s worth, it does look like he’s tucking his shirt in, but there’s no escaping the fact he looks like a creep lying back on the bed, touching the side of Tutar’s body proprietorially. Put this together with a recent interview on the BBC’s superb Trump Show documentary – Giuliani, defending Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comments, made the claim that “all normal men” make similar comments and “their wives know this” – and you may have a pretty good measure of the kind of man he is. Likewise, as Borat sings a country music ballad to a crowd of Trump supporters about injecting Barack Obama with the Wuhan flu and they laugh and applaud, we get a pretty good measure of Trump’s base too.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a must-see, then, but not necessarily because it’s a perfect film. That much of it was created as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world is admirable but there’s no escaping the fact that, for all its many plus points, it often fails as both comedy and satire. In 2006, Borat showed us the sickness festering in some parts of the USA. Today, that has metastasised and may yet prove fatal. A Borat movie reflecting that would have been a contender for the Best Picture Oscar but, all things considered, we should still thank the Maker for people like Sacha Baron Cohen.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.