“You need a total makeover.”
Released back in 2006, before pedestrians or politicians could be found capturing every single second of unrest with cellphones (or as they’re thought to be calculators here), Borat was able to get away with pulling some truly staggering pranks. The character was unknown and the charades were unexpected. Our first introduction to the caricature is, in many ways, more refreshing: I think it’s funnier, presses more buttons, and has the great benefit of feeling more organically manic. Borat is a mockumentary through and through. On the cool side of the pillow is the more collected, smart, and sharp Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, which in accordance with the title actually dares to be a real movie. It’s slapstick and comedic, dramatic and heartfelt, and is a film with a vision and a pleading purpose. The first film made me laugh harder. This one made me feel deeper. Pick your poison.
Quite brilliantly, Borat 2 addresses the biggest concern in mere minutes, which is that Borat was a cultural phenomenon whose likeness has not faded much in the past 16 years. He’s such a familiar, mustachioed face that he has to put a bag over his head, run from crowds, and even comes across a parody costume of his own likeness in a Halloween store showing the lasting cultural impact he’s previously made. Not many characters have become touchstones, and what’s refreshing is that this version of Borat grows into a meteorite, touching down and leaving a literal mark instead of flashing across the sky like a comet with a few memorable goofs and shocking lines. The first film was an extraordinarily successful and exploitative guerilla comedy whereas this new addition is fueled by the power of paternal love. It cuts so much deeper. It hits the head and the heart.
The failed journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a national disgrace, indefinitely sentenced to hard labor, his beard and his hair still growing at a faster rate than his indoctrinated and stilted intellect. He’s a preserved product of his backwards environment, and his latest endeavor to the USA graduates into matters of life or death. Borat is a sexist, a racist, a person who sees the world through a bigoted lens. But his only daughter Tutar (the brilliant, relentlessly courageous newcomer Maria Bakalova), hijacks his plans, and flips the script from one about exposing the predilection for prejudice towards one embracing the power of empathy. I cried because I laughed so damn hard. I laughed to ease the pain of real tears. This is every bit an emotional rollercoaster as anything I’ve seen this year.
Personally, I found the biggest difference between the two staggeringly different films – both truly masterful attempts at depicting and dissecting bigotry and racism through their many different methods and likenesses – to be the staging and the obviously scripted nature of so many bits this time around. It’s far too easy to tell what’s fake and what’s real. And quite honestly, I believe that was intentional. That it was part of the point. Borat Subsequent Film skewers its subjects but doesn’t have the heart to lambast them either, nor does it have the guile to outright roast them alive, and it’s all the more humane because it demands and commands empathy. At the end of the day, love should and does ultimately matter more than ignorance and hate. If Borat can learn that, the rest of us can too.
“Let’s make love instead of war.”
Rating: 4 out of 5