2021 Oscar Reviews: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

For the past several years, I’ve attempted to watch as many Oscar-nominated films as possible, and for the past two years I have written reviews of each film and posted them to this blog. Alas, I always run out of time and cannot see everything. This year’ ceremony has been delayed, and I started reviewing before nominations were announced, giving me a decent chance at wide coverage. Today we cover…

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

[2 nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Maria Bakalova) and Best Adapted Screenplay]

I was pretty startled, when the nominations came out earlier this week, to discover that I had already seen two nominees for which I did not anticipate any nominations. Yes, I knew that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm had been nominated for some Golden GLobes, but, like… just in the Musicals and Comedies categories, right? Like… those ones just don’t really count, right? I mean come it… it’s BORAT! Borat is not an Oscar movie! What the heck is even happening here?

Turns out I’m a big idiot, because I hadn’t realized before today that the original Borat movie had been an Oscar nominee, and in a real category even! Best Adapted Screenplay! Just like this year’s sequel! It seems nuts that a movie THIS crass, zany, and dumb should be a serious awards contender. But…

I think it’s also true that comedy can be a lot harder to pull off than drama. It’s similar to horror, in that there’s a very delicately-balanced and refined skill that goes into crafting the audience’s fear reaction, and the same is true for real quality comedy. Anyone can make you cry. Not anyone can make you laugh. Borat films are even tougher to craft. How do you elicit the right comedic reactions from unsuspecting non-actors? How do you weave together a coherent story when you don’t actually know what will happen in your story? And how do you think on your feet and keep a straight face while doing something as insane as performatively menstruating at a debutante ball, or sweetly entraping Rudy Guliani into unzipping his pants for you? Also, how do you keep from throwing up when you have to get close to him?

I didn’t watch the film and think about it as an Oscar contender, but I do recall thinking that it very much relied on the skills of the unknown young woman playing Borat’s daughter. Borat is such a familiar character that, for a sequel to succeed, it had to rely on a different performer to act as bait. But Sasha Baron Cohen is the king of what he does. How many people could pull off the same madness as him? And let’s be honest- he seems pretty cocky. Would he even trust someone else to take the reigns? As a Eastern-European woman with a super gross yet clever sense of humor (right?), I was very excited to see that, for this film, the potty humor and clever entrapments were pulled off by a young Eastern European woman, Maria Bakalova. She was hilarious and brilliant. It is, of course, not at all the kind of role for which woman usually get Oscar nominations. But then again, it’s not the kind of role our male-dominated gender-sterotype society ever entrusts to women.

The decision to so heavily rely on an unknown lady of course comes down to Baron Cohen and the rest of his writing crew, who came up with the story in the first place. It’s tough to understand how to judge a mostly unscripted movie in a scriptwriting competition. It’s been years since I’ve watched the first Borat, but I recall the big laughs there came from the outrageous behavior and reactions of the people Borat was fooling. This time around, there was some of that. But I found myself laughing the hardest at the clearly scripted lines, such as all of Borat’s voiceovers. Just how far can you push the envelope? In Borat’s case, PRETTY DAMN FAR! A lot of the humor came from really overdoing it with outdated and overt sexism. The very premise of our film is that Borat is trying to give his daughter away as a sex slave to improve diplomatic relations with the US (after his first film ruined Kazakhstan’s image). His daughter must of course sleep in a cage. Her dream in life is to become a trophy wife like Melania Trump. And so no and so forth. I don’t think it’s too big a spoiler to announce that, over time, Borat starts to recognize his daughter is, in fact, a human being with worth and value of her own. Along the way, though, they meet multiple people who witness this demeaning and abusive behavior and do nothing, including a cage salesman who agrees to sell Borat the daughter-holding cage, to the pro-life doctor who turns a blind eye to the implication that this teenaged daughter is carrying her father’s incest baby, to the golddigging coach who teaches this young girl she needs to pretend to be stupid and personalityless if she wants to score a rich husband, to the plastic surgeon willing to perform a boob job when the father asks to give his teenaged daughter a boob job.

Does writing an outline that brings the worst out of people while making your audience laugh a talent that earns you a writing award? I have no idea. Probably not. Does it earn you a nomination? Apparently so! Unless the nomination was based entirely on the very funny fax-related comedy. Which I would be fine with. Because fax comedy is golden comedy.

Okay I’m off to fart on my husband now.

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