Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Delivers a Heartwarming Message Amidst the Laughs
The sequel to the 2006 smash hit has a surprisingly feminist bent.
SPOILER ALERT: This article delves into the plot points and ending of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.
When Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan hit theaters in 2006, the film was a critical and commercial smash hit. The film starred Jewish British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat Sagdiyev, a fictitious Kazakh journalist who travels through the United States to make a documentary about American life. Borat was a wildly funny and devastating satire of life in the final years of the Bush era – but how does the character hold up 14 years later?
America has undergone massive changes since we last saw Borat, both in our political descent into Trumpism and in our cultural reckoning with sexism, racism, and homophobia. Baron Cohen’s offensive journalist character exposed our country’s casual racism and anti-Semitism via shocking interviews with real life Americans.
But ever since Trump’s win in 2016, the most racist and anti-Semitic people among us have crawled out of the shadows and proudly made themselves known. They march in Charlottesville with tiki torches, they run for office, and they fervently worship Trump as their savior. Even Baron Cohen has seen his own backlash, as the cultural appetite for rape jokes and ironic racism has (finally) waned.
Slate’s Inkoo Kang wrote a piece on revisiting Borat in the Trump era, saying:
“What we’re really asked to laugh at, though, is a “shithole country.” With Borat, Baron Cohen reclaimed for “First Worlders” the “right” to mock foreigners from developing nations. Only with the Borat accent are the phrases “my wife!” and “very nice!” punchlines we all remember a dozen years later. At a time when the range of “funny voices” that white comics were “allowed” to do continued to narrow, Baron Cohen gave his permission to revel in a fading white privilege to the millions of frat boys he simultaneously mocked.”
Which brings us to Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, which picks up 14 years after its predecessor. After humiliating his home country of Kazakhstan, Borat has been serving time in a prison labor camp. When the leader of Kazakhstan becomes jealous that he’s not a part of Trump’s dictator friend group, he sends Borat to the states with a gift to curry Trump’s favor.
This time, instead of his producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), Borat is joined by his estranged daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova). Tutar longs to go America and live her dream of marrying a wealthy old white man like Melania did, a plan that take flight when Borat decides to give her as a gift to Vice President Mike Pence.
Bakalova is nothing short of a revelation in this film. The Bulgarian actress infuses Tutar with an irrepressible excitement, and gamely matches Baron Cohen in the film’s more outrageous gags. Two set pieces, one at a debutante ball and one at a crisis pregnancy center, will have you screaming with laughter at Bakalova’s wide-eyed commitment to her role.
But despite the outrageous bits the duo perform, they manage to build a heartfelt and believable relationship with one another. It’s a surprisingly emotional storyline that is buoyed by their interactions with two remarkable women. Jeanise Jones, who Borat hires as a babysitter for his daughter, delivers an emotional plea to Tutar to value herself and her body.
But it’s Judith Dim Evans, a Holocaust survivor, who truly steals the show. When Borat enters a synagogue dressed as a crude Jewish sterotype, Evans greets him with a hug and a bowl of soup, gently educating him on the Holocaust.
Evans died shortly after filming, and her family planned to sue Baron Cohen and Amazon. But Baron Cohen apparently broke character (something he almost never does) to clue in Evans on the bit. He and the filmmakers helped Evans’ family create a website to tell her story, and dedicated the film to her.
Between Bakalova, Jones, and Evans, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm positions its women as the smartest people in the room. By opening his heart up to his daughter, Borat and Tutar inspire a feminist revolution in Kazakhstan. It’s a bold and optimistic ending for a film that revels in showing the absolute worst of America.
I was hoping that this sequel would deliver shocks and laughs, which it ably did. But I had no idea it would move me as well. Who would have thought there was a heart under that big bushy mustache after all?
If Borat Sagdiyev can get it together in 2020, then surely we can too.
(featured image: Amazon Studios)
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