I skipped 2006’s “Borat” when it came out, mostly because I was only 11-years-old when it came out, and I never had the urge to watch it until Amazon’s belated sequel to to it came out this year, which features a fantastic “gotcha” of former New York Mayor and current attorney to the president Rudy Giuliani.
I watched the original in order to understand its sequel, and after watching both, I can sincerely say that you do NOT need to watch “Borat” (2006) to understand “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm” (2020). Like many belated sequels, Borat 2 does not count on its audience to remember every beat from the first film, and it’s a completely isolated tale that builds off the themes of the its predecessor, arguably executing them more completely this time around, but are not so reliant on them that the second one doesn’t make sense if you haven’t seen the first one.
With that being said, here are my thoughts on the first film:
“Borat” (2006) focuses on the titular Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen), a Kazakhi TV journalist who comes to America to film a movie in hopes of bringing back information back home to improve people’s lives. Borat is a racist, misogynist offensive character from which Baron Cohen uses to either elicit reactions from unsuspecting victims who don’t know they’re being filmed for a movie, or expose the usefulness of those who go along with his shtick.
One of the most interesting things about the original “Borat” is its production. There are only four actors in the film, with most interactions being unscripted and genuine. It serves not only as a social experiment, but also a condemnation of certain sects of America, when they politely accept his bigotry. With that being said, “Borat” (2006) certainly isn’t for everyone, and there are several times that Baron Cohen goes too far, and there are several moments that are very uncomfortable, particularly its use of anti-Semitism. This op-ed published in the Yale Daily News explains why Baron Cohen’s use of it is problematic far better than I can, even though it is clearly used for satirical purposes through the lens of an overtly ridiculous character.
As a film, I’d say “Borat” is slightly above average when you remove its shock factor, as while there are some genuinely great moments caught on film that are revealing of post-9/11 America, about half of Baron Cohen’s antics fall flat and the film overall hasn’t aged well. I feel like the critical reception to the first film was greatly inflated by the fact that it was shocking and there weren’t many things like it at the time. It has some great laughs, but is also greatly offensive and uneven as a film, and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to turn it off and never see anything like it ever again. When it’s not funny, it’s annoying and uncomfortable and at times it feels like it’s offensive for the sake of being offensive.
I like Borat’s chemistry with his producer, Azamat (Ken Davitian), and they get into a lot of funny scenarios. But it’s also worth noting that Azamat is not vital to the plot and other than serving as an enabler and at time straight man to Borat’s antics.
Other than its offensive humor that goes too far and doesn’t always serve a purpose, the other major strikes against “Borat” is that its overall narrative is unfocused, and it’s third act is rushed. It feels like the filmmakers forgot to add and ending and tacked one on at the end, which probably was easy to overlook in 2006 when “Borat” was fresh and new, but its rushed third act really sticks out once its novelty wears off.
I couldn’t help but feel like its unscripted nature was a big part of what made this film so popular in the day, and why I couldn’t connect with it. In 2020 unscripted shows and films are nothing special — moderately successful YouTubers make them all the time, not to mention America’s obsession with “reality” TV post-“Borat” have noticeably cheapened the format.
Overall, “Borat” is an above average comedy that, while at times great, steps over the line too much for me to recommend.
“Borat” (2006) gets a 6/10