Eye For Film >> Movies >> Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020) Film Review
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
In the 14 years between the release of Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan and this sequel, a lot changed and a lot stayed the same. The US cultural attitudes which writer/star Sacha Baron Cohen drew out and satirised so well gained more specific form and made daily headlines under the leadership of Donald Trump. In Kazakhstan, a government understandably outraged by the portrayal of their country as a primitive rural backwater gradually succumbed to pressure from citizens who loved the film, pirating it and sharing it widely. The prospect that the US had become immune to satire and the Kazakhstan's leaders had learned to laugh at themselves was all the provocation Cohen needed to return to his character. Could he prove both these notions wrong?
The film picks up with journalist Borat now treated as an outcast in his home country. He is relieved when shadowy government officials escort him to a meeting with its leader, who offers him the opportunity to redeem himself by travelling the the US once again, this time charged with delivering a gift to Mike Pence that will allow Kazakhstan to acquire a share of the promised US greatness. After Borat arrives on US soil, however, he discovers to his consternation that the gift has had an accident. He does, however, have his teenage daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova), who has stowed away in the hopes of meeting her idol, Melania Trump, so he resolves to present her as a gift instead.
What follows is a predictable tale of a father and daughter getting to know one another as they get in and out of scrapes, but there's a distinctive flavour to it. As Tutar goes through the process of beautifying herself to meet US standards - an increasingly sad process - she also learns a bit about feminism. Borat learns that people think it odd to keep one's daughter in a cage, and gradually comes to recognise her as a human being - but not without scandalising numerous Americans along the way. Both actors play the innocent abroad type well. Although Borat is recognised on a couple of occasions, the majority of those they meet have no idea what's going on - including, rather dangerously, Pence's security team.
There are obvious targets here - evangelical anti-abortion campaigners, attendees at a father-daughter dance - who quickly come to seem like parodies of themselves under Cohen's guidance. A babysitter who worries that Tutar is being abused presents a rather more troubling scenario, and the film isn't always sharp enough about its ethics to maintain the moral high ground. It becomes more interesting when it gets out of the comfort zone provided by familiar cynicism and finds warmth in unexpected places. Two Jewish women patiently explaining their traditions to an anti-Semitic caricature has a certain sweetness about it, but what's braver is the illustration of concern for Tutar at a Republican women's meeting and of kindness to Borat from two log cabin-dwelling Trump supporters who sincerely believe that the Clintons eat babies.
That many Americans harbour extreme and unlikely beliefs is - after the past four years - news to no-one, but what Cohen makes clear is that they're still human beings with the capacity to do better. The satire this time around is targeted less at individuals that at systems and institutions. In this regard the film is more sophisticated, but it lacks the heart of its predecessor. It also seems to buy into its own legend too eagerly. The supposedly shocking scenes with Rudy Giuliani are nothing like as sensational as has been suggested; there's no real implication that the former New York mayor believes he's about to do something criminal, and really nothing more to see than the sad spectacle of a has-been politician deluding himself that much younger women might find him irresistible.
Bakalova handles the more difficult work as an actor, carrying Tutar from barn-dwelling peasant to a convincing imitation of a slickly artificial US journalist. Cohen stays safely within the confines of his established persona. The more strident tone of the comedy jars somewhat with his intermittent wacky outbursts and the film is very hit and miss. Where it hits, there are genuine insights. Where it misses, it feels awkward and old fashioned, not quite astute enough for a world which now demands a good deal more of its comic performers. Borat is a pony with a pony's charm but he'll soon be sold for glue if he can't learn new tricks.Reviewed on: 04 Feb 2021