I am not sure what the expectations were for a Borat sequel. Speaking for myself, any premise for such a movie had to deal with one major problem; namely, that the Borat character is simply too well-known to trick people again. Borat was a cultural phenomenon 14 years ago, and while the character’s pop culture relevance has obviously diminished, Sascha Baron Cohen needed to revamp his approach and do something different if he wanted to revisit Borat.
Most of the attention before the sequel’s release was paid to the clever idea of Borat disguising himself, and there is no doubt it is funny to see a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude in each of these skits. Each disguise is an expectedly funny stereotype of American culture that I laughed at. Cohen does a great job staying in character as Borat while in disguise as someone else.
Borat’s various personas are not what make Borat Subsequent Moviefilm a good sequel, though. This movie succeeds in large part because of Maria Bakalova’s role as his daughter, Tutar, and the genuine, unexpected heart her character injects into the actual, honest-to-goodness story the film tells.
That’s right, Borat has a real plot this time. The first movie is largely just a collection of skits connected by the overarching goal of marrying Pamela Anderson. The sequel focuses more heavily on a plot premise, which is Borat’s goal of avoiding execution by offering a gift from Kazakhstan to the American government in order to get on Donald Trump’s good side. This gift starts off as a famous monkey to offer to Mike Pence, but the gift eventually becomes his daughter, Tutar, who smuggles herself in the monkey’s mail crate in order to travel to America with her father.
This is undoubtedly a cynical plot carried out in a largely cynical way that rips viciously into the patriarchy and its negative influences on gender roles, female agency, fatherhood, and sexual repression and exploitation of teen girls. Cohen does not hold back at all in calling out the systems that make all these terrible things possible.
You would think this would make for a miserable movie, but because of Tutar, you instead end up with a genuinely heartwarming film. Bakalova makes Tutar, and her gradual revelation of the lies she has been told throughout her life about the limits of women in society, an endearing character that convincingly creates a belief that Borat would also wake up to the injustices done to girls like his daughter, as well as the women they become.
Asking any actor to not only play alongside Cohen as Borat, let alone to sell the same outrageous behavior that Cohen does, is a hard ask. Bakalova has absolutely zero problem doing so. She sells Tutar’s belief in the mock Kazakh culture and beliefs with total authority. Whether it is excitement about her marriage cage, the hilarious Melania Trump animated movie she watches, or her fear of a woman driving a car, she commits to the role with the same absurd fervor that Cohen commits to Borat himself.
As she gradually uncovers the lies her father and culture have told her throughout her life, her sense of betrayal is delivered with a dramatic gravitas no one would expect coming from the first movie. We may not be talking Viola Davis or anything here, but the drama still hits harder than Borat has any right to.
Ultimately, this sequel is more about her than it is Borat himself, and Bakalova lives up to that task.
Almost all the memorable scenes in the movie center around her. The funniest is probably the “fertility dance” Tutar and Borat perform at a debutante ball, complete with plenty of “moon blood” to show everyone in attendance. The most culturally relevant scene involves Tutar interviewing Rudy Giuliani and the extremely compromising situation resulting from it. Her discovery that masturbation does NOT result in your vagina literally eating you leads to a hilarious speech to a Republican Women’s meeting about how best to do the deed.
Even the scenes asking her to be a supporting character delivered amazing moments. Her dancing celebration when Borat lets her stay in America, eating lipstick during her makeover, the clinic scene where Borat wants the “baby” taken out of her stomach, it is all so good.
She is at Borat’s side throughout much of the movie and is never outshined by the more popular main character. Cohen uses her presence to take the emphasis off himself and his disguises, which keeps the premise from ever feeling too familiar or the skits too repetitive. It is a brilliant decision.
Without Bakalova’s perfect comedic timing and acting chops, Borat 2 could not have pulled off half of the commentary it does, or at least not without coming across far worse. This movie doesn’t have much new or special to say about misogyny and the patriarchy, but it says it with such blunt, reckless honesty that you cannot really avoid the reality of the message.
Eventually, Tutar comes across a “babysitter” who opens her eyes to the lies, and these scenes feel incredibly earnest. Her desperate attempts to convince Tutar that her father’s misogyny is wrong rings remarkably true. Tutar’s own resistance, while obviously exaggerated and ridiculous, is damned believable and heartbreaking. She is not only successful as a comedic character tearing into the worst of American misogyny, she is also a genuinely relatable character with a few remarkably emotional scenes based in well-earned sentimentality.
The whole package puts Maria Bakalova at the center of a genuinely feminist movie. Who in the world would have thought that of a Borat movie?
Don’t get me wrong, the first movie was certainly political. Sascha Baron Cohen did not hold back at all when it came to attacking the worst parts of American culture and bigotry. Still, Borat was one of those movies that bigots could easily enjoy for the bigotry, rather than intended message of the bigotry. It is the problem Dave Chapelle struggled with on Chapelle’s Show, where he feared the stereotypes reinforced bigotry rather than challenged it.
Much of the discontent towards the sequel seems to revolve around the “politics” involved, as if Cohen has suddenly decided to make Borat a political character now and the first movie was politics-free. Really, though, Borat 2 is a natural evolution of the exact same formula from the first film. Yes, the message is blunter, but that is largely due to the way times have changed since the first movie.
A Borat sequel had to hold back even less on attacking the worst aspects of American culture, and misogyny is one of the pillars of the worst parts of American culture, alongside racism.
And so we have Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, centered around Borat’s daughter and her fight for agency and empowerment. It asks a lot of Maria Bakalova. Frankly, this movie would be awful with a lesser actor in her place. It would have been average if she were passable. Instead she knocked the role out of the freaking park and helped deliver a surprisingly effective movie.
The ending (after an absolutely surprise), delivers on all the growth and development that occurs throughout the movie and rewards you for actually investing in Tutar’s character. She and Borat stand as equals, and it is fitting considering Bakalova is every bit Sascha Baron Cohen’s equal.
Images Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
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