Synopsis: Borat, a Kazakh journalist wants to deliver a present to the American Vice President. (Streaming on Amazon Prime.)
British chameleon of satire, Sacha Baron Cohen returns to the United States, exposing socio-political trends in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. And also being gross and funny. SBC was introduced to U.S. audiences in 2006’s Borat. Borat is a Kazakh television journalist with reactionary views; he’s a misogynist and anti-Semite. Borat barnstorms across America, being problematic and giving his interviewees just enough rope to hang themselves.
The mockumentary’s “plot” has Borat trying to get back in the good graces of his government after embarrassing them internationally. Borat 2 begins at the gulag where Borat is serving time; the commandant tells him that he can redeem himself if he delivers a gift to the American government.
Before leaving Kazakhstan, Borat visits his old village and runs into his teenage daughter (The actress is in her twenties.) He figures that gifting her as a bride to American Vice President Mike Pence will win him favor with Pence and, in return, with his own nation.
One of the problems that SBC has in the English-speaking world is that he and his character are popular enough to be well-recognized. Fortunately, he has some good makeup artists and he is fantastic at not breaking character. This time around he has an excellent partner in crime, Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova as his daughter, Tutar.
How, one might ask, does a country respond to being ridiculed? In the case of Kazakhstan, they were none too pleased with the first movie. The government threatened legal action causing SBC, in character as Borat, to release a statement that he supported their threat to sue. The government has come around and now takes advantage of the free publicity to promote tourism.
In the movie, all we see of Borat’s home country is a dismal-looking rural village. (The shoot location was actually in Romania.) So how does Kazakhstan stack up internationally? Well, regarding income, the Per Capita GDP (purchasing power parity) is about $26,000. (With the U.S. at roughly $59,000.) Regarding education, the UN Education Index ( a formula that includes literacy and educational attainment) ranks Kazakhstan 39th (between Palau & the Ukraine). The U.S. comes in 8th (between Iceland & the Netherlands). When Borat starts interviewing people you’ll wonder what the hell American kids are learning in school.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat makes a lot of prejudicial statements about Jewish people. In one gag, he goes to a synagogue where he hopes to be killed in a mass shooting. He tells the two senior citizens he encounters there that he is depressed because he heard that the Holocaust maybe didn’t happen. One of the women tells him that she survived the Holocaust as a child.
SBC is provocative as hell—he is Jewish and, being cheeky AF, speaks Hebrew in lieu of Kazakh when his character is supposedly speaking his native language. Note to the diaspora: if you settle down abroad, Vietnam is very low on the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Semitic Index (6%). But avoid Iraq (92%). I know we all will.
So are Kazakhs a bunch of anti-Semites like Borat? Well…their index is 32%. Ouch. With the USA ringing in at 9%. In fact, SBC doesn’t have much trouble teasing out casual anti-Semitism in America. At one point, he asks a bakery worker to adorn a cake with an anti-Jewish slogan. And at a plastic surgeon’s office his daughter asks if her nose makes her look Jewish. Their responses don’t exactly qualify them as allies against discrimination.
And this is all sort of the comedian’s point. He exposes readily observable prejudices in the good old US of A. So while Kazakhstan may seem like an easy target; it looks like America is too.
Three of SBC’s pranks got press before the movie premiered on Amazon Prime…
1) Borat spends a few days with two QAnon conspiracy theorists and ends up attending a right wing rally with them. They helped him write a song that he performs onstage, disguised as “Country Steve.” The crowd cheers as he sings about Obama being a traitor and calls for the execution of scientists and journalists. Apparently, a few protestors from a rival rally recognize that this is a parody. Word got around and SBC had to flee as the audience rushed the stage. Yes, just some proud Americans enjoying songs about killing their fellow citizens for doing their jobs to inform the public.
2) Somehow, SBC’s people contrived an interview with Rudy Giuliani (former NYC mayor and Trump’s personal lawyer) with actress Maria Bakalova as a television journalist. She acts overwhelmed to be in the presence of such greatness. Anyhow what follows is cringe-inducing at the very least. When Giuliani follows her into her hotel bedroom for a drink post-interview…well, you’ll have to judge for yourself; but I’d say the Creep Factor is very high. While this is unfolding, Borat worries that the young woman is “too old” for the septuagenarian.
3) SBC manages to get into a Conservative Political Action Conference where Vice President Pence will be speaking. How he gets in and then manages to get into a Trump mask and suit is a marvel of planning ahead. Seeing Pence pontificate from the dais is like watching a scene from The Handmaid’s Tale.
Some of the set-ups fall flat. Like when Borat & Tutar crash a southern debutante ball. The viewer may be ready to hear racist remarks to hiss at, but instead we get a menstruation over-flow sight gag (Stained clothing, how gross) that only serves as period shaming. And the guests just look embarrassed by the spectacle.
Another envelope-pushing antic centers on accessing abortion. (In Kazakhstan abortion is available without restriction through 12 weeks gestation. In the US, the Supreme Court ruled that pregnancies can be terminated before fetal viability, but each state has a wide variety of regulations.) So…Borat brings his daughter to a “women’s health clinic” that doesn’t provide medical care, but exists to persuade women against abortion. You won’t believe what happens when his character “informs” the pastor that he (father to the teen) is the impregnator.
IRL, a pregnant girl under the age of seventeen in South Carolina needs parental consent for an abortion. And there is not a waiver for a young woman who is a victim of child abuse. So… she would need her abusing parent to give her permission to terminate the pregnancy? Needless to say, SBC finds fertile ground for satire in the Palmetto State–known in the old days as the Iodine State. Did you know that iodine deficiencies can result in spontaneous abortion? Dear Female, Here’s your packet of iodized salt. Yours, State of South Carolina.
The viewer almost loses track that there is a through line in the mockumentary. But by the end, you’ll find yourself wondering about concepts of “superiority” from country to country. And you’ll probably be glad that SBC is still figuring out ways to insinuate himself into all sorts of situations. And if he makes himself look foolish, there are plenty of his subjects who end up looking the same.
P.S. Curious about Kazakhstan, I looked up how the nation stacks up on the rule of law (which analyzes data on corruption, accountability and equality before the law & fundamental human rights). Kazakhstan ranks 62nd of 128 nations (between Nepal & Panama), while the U.S. comes in at 21st (between France and Uruguay). The top three countries are: Denmark, Norway, and Finland.
And if you are looking for Highest Quality of Life: Canada, Denmark, and Sweden.
The top three for Happiest Residents: Finland, Denmark and Norway.
Well that settles that! I’m off to Denmark. Hej, Danmark!
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: Biting satire on the crude side.
Humor Highlight: A ridiculous race at the end of the movie.