Entertainment

'Borat Subsequent Moviefilm' Is a Surprisingly Great Comedy Sequel

Its breakout stars include Borat's zany daughter and very creepy Rudy Giuliani.

borat 2, sacha baron cohen
Very nice | Amazon Studios
Very nice | Amazon Studios

In some ways, Borat was always about the friends we made along the way. Yes, yes, Sacha Baron Cohen's Kazakh creation is best known for his uncanny ability to get Americans to reveal the worst about themselves, but the reason the 2006 mockumentary still holds up to this day is less about "Throw the Jew Down the Well" and more about the bizarrely heartfelt relationship between Borat and his producer Azamat (Ken Davitan). 

It seems that Cohen remembered this going into the sequel. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, directed by Jason Wolliner and debuting on Amazon Prime on October 23, operates both as an indictment of the United States, where prejudices have gotten even more blatant since the Bush era, and an almost touching father-daughter story. The movie's true MVP is 24-year-old Bulgarian newcomer Maria Bakalova, who plays Borat's 15-year-old daughter, Tutar.

When the movie opens, we find that Borat has been imprisoned in a gulag because his first documentary made his country a laughing stock. He's released under the condition that he return to America to make another documentary in which he gives Mike Pence the gift of a celebrity monkey. Before leaving, he goes to check in with his family and is rejected by all but Tutar. Women being subhumans in this fictionalized Kazakhstan, Borat shuns her and continues on his journey. Naturally, Tutar sneaks away in the monkey's crate, eats the monkey, and joins the adventure herself.

borat
Amazon Prime

Due to Tutar's unexpected participation, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm quickly becomes an alternately very funny and depressing referendum on the backwards ways women are treated across the world. Sure, the "owner's manual" for daughters Tutar carries around is hyperbolic, but the polite sexism that Cohen and Bakalova encounter is horrifying. There's the salesman that doesn't flinch when Borat explains that he's planning to house Tutar in a cage. There's the pastor at the "women's health center" who is seemingly unbothered even when he thinks Tutar might be pregnant with her father's child. (The baby inside of her that she wants to get out is actually just a cake topper. She eventually poops it out and keeps it, dressing it up like her father in a way that's somehow moving.) Then there's the dad at a debutante ball who, without missing a beat, says he'd pay $500 for Tutar when Borat asks how much she's worth.

It all leads up to the movie's biggest moment, which publicists don't want spoiled, but is already a national news story. After failing to "give" Tutar to Pence, Borat sets his sights on Rudy Giuliani, who does more than take the bait. Giuliani sits for an interview with Tutar, having evolved into a Tomi Lahren-type upon learning about feminism and Facebook. After she removes his microphone in a hotel bedroom while he pats her waist, he lies down on the bed and appears to reach his hand down his pants before Borat interrupts him, explaining that she's 15. It's perhaps the most shocking moment Cohen has ever produced, but it's also in keeping with the film's overarching theme: You may take a woman out of Kazakhstan, but you can never fully remove the cages that follow her.

borat tutar
Amazon Prime

When Cohen and Wolliner began filming, there was no way they could have known that the coronavirus pandemic would add another layer of lunacy to the circumstances, and indeed the COVID-specific gags feel a little more slapdash than the Tutar parts. Perhaps that's because shacking up with a couple of dudes who want Obama in jail and believe the virus is a Democratic hoax doesn't reveal anything new at this point. Your mileage may also vary on the coronavirus-related punchline Cohen chooses to end the movie with. It's both amusing and a little too easy, cheaper than what you would expect based on what came before and shoehorned in for even more relevance.

There are plenty more bits that will generate controversy as the movie rolls out, including one where Borat, in anti-Semitic garb, visits a synagogue and is educated by a kindly Holocaust survivor, to whom the movie is dedicated. But that moment, like so many of the ones involving Tutar, is strangely lovely, even caked the layers of irony.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is not just "very nice," it also has a genuinely nice soul even as it works to expose so much ugliness. Credit, of course, goes to Cohen, who wears Borat like a second skin, but even more to Bakalova. She's a revelation, down for the zaniness while also exuding an innocence that's hard to fake. There's probably no need for a third Borat, but if there is, it should probably be called Tutar.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.
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