Film Review: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”


From The Hollywood Reporter, 2020.

Dean Robbins, Arts Editor

Back in October of 2016 before all that went down, me and two buddies sat in the surprisingly crowded balcony of Dormont, PA’s Hollywood Theater to watch Michael Moore In Trumpland. The film has since turned out to be a rather prescient look at the election. At the time, I was more than a little disappointed. First of all, the film is not a traditional Moore documentary but rather a sort-of stand-up special. The gimmick is that Moore did a liberal-minded show in the middle of red America or…Trumpland. Secondly, Michael Moore In Trumpland is the not the kind of movie you want to see with your friends at the age of thirteen. Michael Moore In Trumpland is an election movie. Every four years, a flurry of rushed movies or specials release to encourage the polis to exercise their democratic powers or lest the world shall end. 2020 was especially packed from the lesser-known special What The Constitution Means To Me to the (highly overrated) David Byrne’s American Utopia to a HBO Max-exclusive The West Wing reunion. And, of course, the most successful election film of this cycle: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020).


Earlier in 2020, the entertainment industry news outlets reported that a sequel to Sacha Baron Cohen’s cult classic Borat (2006) was secretly being filmed in LA. A few weeks later, Amazon Prime Video officially broke the news that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm would premiere on the service later that year. The film released to critical acclaim and awards buzz for Cohen and, especially, his nearly unknown co-star Maria Bakalova. We will see how the cast fares awards-wise soon.


Bakalova plays Borat’s daughter Tutar who Borat must give as a gift from Kazakhstan to Vice President Mike Pence or else suffer horrifying torture. Borat and Tutar set off for America where Borat must disguise himself to avoid being recognized. Along the way, Borat cavorts with QAnon conspiracy theorists, debutante ball attendees, and Rudy Giuliani.


Without getting into heavy spoilers, the sequences can be quite funny at times. One highlight is the fictional Kazakh animated princess movie Melania, which Tutar watches. The film was never laugh-out-loud for me, but I understand humor is very subjective. It may work for you or completely fall flat. Still, based on my enjoyment, I would recommend the film on this front. The place where I believe the film can be criticized in a slightly more objective way is in its treatment of its participants and politics.


Borat Subsequent Moviefilm looks down on just about every single person in the film. This would be fine if the people in the film were all fictional. Unfortunately, they are not. The Kazakhstan-related characters are all fictional, as far as I know. In America, most of the “characters” are just real people, in traditional Cohen fashion. The film wants you to be shocked by many of these people. However, I had quite the opposite reaction. Cohen is constantly pushing random people to their limit of kindness…and they all stay kind? No one ever gets angry at Cohen despite having many reasons to do so. At one point, Cohen walks into a synagogue dressed as a stereotype of a Jew. I have to wonder if the whole sequence was staged, considering how relaxed the people in the synagogue were. Even the less likable people like the QAnon conspiracy theorists still gave Cohen a place to sleep for the night. In this scene and the most vile scene involving a neo-Nazi rally, Cohen is also actively egging the people on to say outrageous things. The worst offense of the film is a sequence where Tutar spends a day (or a few, it is unclear) with a babysitter. It came out later that Cohen barely paid the babysitter for her work. He only gave her more money after several days of internet fervor. The babysitter becomes key in a shift in Borat and Tutar’s relationship. To be honest, I just felt bad that this poor babysitter was being manipulated into being a “character” in this absurd story.


The film climaxes with an infamous scene involving Rudy Giuliani. A few days before the film released to the public, a still of the film showing Giuliani in a compromising position was released. Did Cohen get a The Jinx moment? Everyone thought so…until the film released on Prime Video. Having seen that part a few times, it is minimally ambiguous and, at worse for Cohen, a blatant misrepresentation of events. It generated headlines for a few days and then promptly disappeared from the public consciousness. Alas, as I began this review, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is an election film. Unfortunately, like all election films, Borat Subsequent Movie is propaganda. The film concludes with a plea for viewers to vote. And by voting, they mean voting Democrat. Look at all these QAnon people accusing Democrats of drinking infant blood or Rudy Giuliani supposedly trying to molest a teenager. I do not have any problem with movies trying to get out the vote and/or movies trying to get out the Democrat vote. My problem with this film is that its hides its intentions behind a thin veneer of light comedy. In reality, it is manipulating real everyday people into its propagandistic narrative. That is hard to overlook. As Borat says in the film, “I was [sic] publicly humiliate”.