Review: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

Director: Jason Woliner
Screenwriters: Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Swimer
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova
Genre: Comedy
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and language
Release Date: 10/23/20 (Streaming)
Runtime: 1h 35min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Where to Watch: Amazon
Oscar Nomination(s): Likely–Supporting Actress (Bakalova); Possible–Adapted Screenplay; Long-Shot–Actor (Cohen)

I’ll be honest: I have not yet seen the first Borat film, released about 15 years ago, so I have no real background on the Borat character aside from what I’ve heard other people say about him — include Sacha Baron Cohen, the man who portrays him. Instead of watching that first film, I decided to jump right into the sequel, seeing as Oscar nominations are very possible at this point. If you know me, then you know I make it a point to see as many Oscar-nominated films as possible, which is why I’ll often start early — way before the nominations are announced — in hopes that I won’t have too many to see in a relatively short amount of time. (This year is a bit different, as the Oscar ceremony is not until April). 

I knew that this film, like the first one, is meant to make the viewer to both feel uncomfortable and to laugh, which is no easy feat. The sequel mostly succeeds, although I can’t help but wish Cohen and co. had gone even further than they did. Sure, there are plenty of embarrassing, shameful moments — especially when Borat and his daughter (Maria Bakalova) interact with MAGA idiots — but there aren’t nearly as many as I would’ve expected. Or, maybe it’s that I wasn’t too shocked, because I’ve seen the way certain people act, so this film didn’t really show me anything new about American society as it looks today. 

Much has been said about the awkward, perv-y encounter between Borat’s daughter and Rudy Giuliani, and it is truly bizarre, even from this weird dude. The film could’ve used more moments like this, which was more shocking than disturbing. There’s also a perfectly hilarious scene between Borat and his daughter and a priest, during which he insinuates he impregnated his own daughter (that’s not what actually happened). I’m sure some scenes, such as that one, were at least partially scripted, but much of what transpires is improvised.

Cohen underwent an extensive, long process to find the right person to play his daughter, and he found a formidable, talented co-star in Bakalova. The Bulgarian-born 24-year-old — who’s playing a 15-year-old here — excels at comedy and at finding the humor in almost anything. She also gifts us with some surprisingly emotional moments, of which I wish there were more (even though this is of course a comedy/mockumentary). It’s easy to see why she’s been in the awards race. I mean, she talks to a group of Republican women about supposedly getting her period for the first time, and she never breaks character (neither does Cohen, which is also impressive).

It’s very interesting to see how the pandemic not only appears in this film, but ends up playing a major role in it — as does Tr*mp-ism/MAGA mania. It’s infuriating (as a liberal) to see how these people behave, but, like I said, it’s not all that surprising. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (that’s the shortened version) ends on a fairly optimistic note, and there’s actually more character development here than in some other movies I’ve seen lately. Plus, there’s a feminist message, which is probably beaten over the head too much, but in Bakalova’s hands, it’s a touchdown. And, yet, I couldn’t help but want there to be more, for Cohen to dig even deeper.