The Interview (dir. Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg)

Posted: December 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

After all of the controversy surrounding the release of “The Interview”, the threats from North Korea and the hacking and Sony and major theater chains retreating like pussies, the film has finally been released courtesy of a few hundred indie theaters, and VOD.  Releasing this film on VOD was probably the wrong move financially, as it diverted money that might have made the limited release huge, and ensures high quality pirated copies will flood the market, but Sony has fumbled this ball for weeks now.  Now that we’re able to see the film ourselves, we can judge whether it was worth all of the damn attention.

In a word: no.  “The Interview” is not a scathing work of blistering satire.  The film doesn’t even really rise to the level of satire.  It’s more of a parody that uses North Korea largely as window-dressing, and it’s attacks on the Kim Jong Un and the DPRK are of the sort you’d see in internet memes or Adult Swim.  One imagines the writers simply saw the episode of Vice where they traveled to North Korea on the same trip Dennis Rodman took and thought it’d be a funny setting for a film.  That’s fine, I guess, and the movie ends up plenty funny in the end.  Well, at least it’s funnier than “This is the End” (which I liked) and “Neighbors” (which I did not).  It’s just a shame that we didn’t get a really biting satire that cared at least a little bit about scoring political points while it was scoring laughs.

In case you’re unaware, the film is about David Skylark (James Franco), a pretentious and possibly mildly mentally handicapped television personality who calls to mind Byron Allen, if Allen was deluded enough to think he was Charlie Rose.  Skylark’s show seems to be composed of TMZ-style infotainment and weird celebrity interviews.  I assume either E! or bravo would air his show.  Skylark’s producer is Aaron (Seth Rogen), who wishes the show did more important news stories.  So, when Skylark reads that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is a fan, he gets the idea that maybe he should interview Kim.  After some plot machinations and a hilariously brief meeting in China, an interview is set up.

Then we get the CIA, represented largely by the sexy Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), who sadly only wears glasses in one scene (though this leads to a funny little exchange about the timeliness of her Lasik surgery later).  Lacey informs Aaron and Skylark that the CIA would like them to covertly assassinate Kim in the hopes that an unhappy faction in North Korea would take over, as opposed to another Kim relative or one of his generals.  Not exactly the best plan there, CIA, and the film misses an opportunity to use humor to indict the CIA for doing things like this in real life, only to have it come back to bite the US or other countries in the ass: the Bay of Pigs, helping depose Chile’s Allende only to have a dictatorship set up there under Pinochet, etc.  Sadly, the only cogent indictment of the U.S. in the film comes from Kim calling out America’s incarceration rate.  You might argue that the film is more concerned with parodying North Korea, but the film actually doesn’t do as much of that as you’d think.  We get a fake grocery story, complete with a chubby child eating a lollipop.  There’s propaganda hanging around and statues and the like, and an opening sequence of a little girl singing an anti-American song is pretty funny.  Still, the movie stays cautiously away from showing us the true hardships of the people living in North Korea.  Verbal references are made to labor camps and famine, but it’s not shown.  No, the film being a comedy is no excuse for that.  Any subject matter can be made funny, and showing horrendous things like forced labor camps in a bitingly humorous way might have elevated this film to the level of satire.

Once our protagonists make it to North Korea, we meet Kim Jong Un himself, played very well by Randall Park.  The Kim of this film is a shy man nursing daddy issues and an inferiority complex, who masks his feelings of inadequacy regarding his masculinity with women, margaritas, basketball, and collecting extravagant cars.  Also, like every other insecure guy who’s worried he’s not man enough, he like to throw his weight around by threatening violence, though for Kim that means nuclear missiles.  The greatest triumph of “The Interview” is making their Kim a fully fledged character with a distinct personality and not just a cartoon dictator or a background character.  Park finds just the right note to make the character funny while seemingly playing him straight, and deserves massive kudos for being perhaps the most successful element of the film.

The film’s humor doesn’t rise to satire, and spends some time with light parody, but the humor is largely derived from dick jokes, word play, ass/anal/rectum jokes, some celebrity cameos (Eminem’s is particularly funny), barely concealed homosexual undertones in the main characters’ relationship, and a really bizarre performance from James Franco.  There are times in the film where Franco’s portrayal of Skylark makes no sense.  Sometimes the character is a complete moron, other times merely a pretentious asshole, sometimes he seems somewhat intelligent but purposefully naïve, and sometimes he’s just fucking odd.  I don’t know if the character played more straightforward on the page, but as brought to life by Franco this is one weird creation.  It is both over-the-top and not, both bad acting and good acting, and it mostly works in the film but it still calls attention to itself because it’s a just plain WEIRD performance.

Then there’s the third act, which has an almost abrupt use of violence for humor, particularly in a scene involving finger biting.  The blood effects-for-laughs there border on “Too Many Cooks”-level.  It doesn’t go completely “Evil Dead II” on us, but it’s shocking because of how unrelated that humor feels to the rest of the humor in the film.  An unexpected gunshot to the head in the second act also does this.  Later, we’re back to ironic uses of Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Kim shooting a man in the asshole and yelling “Your butthole is ironic!” in Korean for humor.

I will give points to the film for its visual style.  The exteriors of North Korea perfectly capture the look of a place when it has just stopped raining but right before a fog is about the roll in.  Basically, it looks like Vancouver, but as subtle way of communicating the dreariness of life in North Korea via weather it is effective.  I also enjoyed how the film is lit overall, particularly with what look like emergency lights in the scene with the aforementioned unexpected gunshot to the head, and the warm interiors of Kim’s palace where there’s interesting use of shadows and not perfectly lighting everyone, yet not making the film appear dark (many comedies just put as much light on the actors as possible, as if the humor can’t come across unless we see every comedian perfectly).  Director of Photography Brandon Trost deserves special mention, as his previous work has mostly been unexceptional comedies with nothing special about their visual appearance.  Here, he’s brought some of the tricks he might have employed on his more visually interesting films like “The Lords of Salem” and applied them to a comedy.

“The Interview” is probably not the film you want it to be.  Maybe you were looking for something with a little more political humor mixed in with the potty humor, like Sacha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator”.  Maybe you wanted a searing indictment of Kim like Chaplin did to Hitler in “The Great Dictator”.  Maybe you wanted a great satire that also has plenty of potty humor, like Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy”.  I kind of wanted all of those things, but “The Interview” is not that.  It is a sufficiently funny film which made me laugh a decent amount of times throughout its length, but didn’t inspire any fits of hilarity.  It’s likely the controversy surrounding the film will be more remembered than the film’s actual content, but the content has enough laughs to not be completely disregarded itself.  Take away all of the brouhaha and political stuff and we have a decent little comedy here.  B.


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