Speaking of hard to recommend movies, there’s this hot mess of a film that landed in a political brouhaha. The Interview, a collaboration between long-time cohorts Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen.
A lot of people wanted to support this film one week, only to retract that support the next week when Rogen made an unflattering statement about American Sniper. Or America, depending on how you wanted to interpret it. I chose not to interpret it at all.
I wanted to see it in the theater on principle, but it was only out in that brief window and it was one of those weeks where I couldn’t get out. In normal circumstances, I would’ve caught it at the bargain theater. As it is, I watched it on Netflix. I don’t usually review stuff I see on Netflix, but this is a movie of some unusual interest.
The premise is simple: A shallow entertainment superstar (James Franco) and his wanna-be-better-than-that producer (Seth Rogen) get tapped by the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, to do a softball interview in NoKo. The CIA decides this is their perfect chance to kill the little runt, so they put some effort into teaching the two how it should go.
Franco’s character Skylark is so dumb and so gullible, that he actually finds himself under the sway of Un, a situation that infuriates the more level-headed Rogen, when he’s not pursuing the hot Korean PR officer (the very lovely Diana Bang). Ultimately this resolves to a pro-America and pro-West sentiment which, weirdly, is almost shocking.
But then, the whole thing is more than a little weird and uncomfortable and I found myself more interested in why that was so, than I was in the actual movie.
The team’s previous outing, This Is The End, is weird and uncomfortable, too, but it also works somehow. Maybe because of the sort of fantasy element to the whole thing, or maybe because in that film, everyone was lampooning themselves. There’s something rather endearing in a story about a group of rich actors who realize, come Judgment Day, they’re mostly going right to Hell. And, hey, it’s the End of the World, so the dark, broody camerawork works to achieve a funhouse effect.
But in The Interview the same type of camerawork is used, and it sits on the movie like a shroud. This is a screwball comedy shot in the style of a serious spy thriller. It reminds me, at its best, of the cinematography in Network, which this film sometimes shuffles embarrassingly around, and other times lampshades (e.g. when Rogen explains that Franco, the media, is being manipulated by Un.)
It doesn’t help that, as far as I know, in real life, nobody outside of North Korea is actually fooled by Un’s antics. (Dennis Rodman and Michael Moore maybe pretend to be.) So the big message is, well, it’s dopey.
But the big problem is that great satire, like Network, teases your credulity, by playing things absolutely straight. Part of the game is getting your audience to go along with you as far as you can stretch them before they just reject your premise outright. (The obvious example being Swift’s A Modest Proposal. You can see someone saying “You’re making sense…you’re making sense…you’re making sense…wait, eat the what?”
The Interview absolutely refuses to treat its audience with any sort of respect in that regard. It’s as though they’re worried if they go five minutes without a dick joke, you’ll lose interest in the film, without seeing how the tonal shifts both destroy the film’s credibility on the one hand, and make the jokes fall flat on the other.
Now, that maybe wasn’t a wrong choice, though nota bene that most of the other projects the two have worked on together (Funny People, Superbad, Knocked Up) don’t have that problem. Interestingly enough, one that does is The Green Hornet, which would fit with the idea that there’s a lack of conviction in the subject matter.
I’m criticising here, but it’s not completely unredeemed. It has a strange bravura to it, like the best aspects of This Is The End. Some of the jokes work. Diana Bang is really cute. The ending is an interesting kind of twist.
A lot of people praise the Rogen/Franco chemistry, but I often found it grating here. There’s a lot of graphic violence at the end, which will alienate a few people who might otherwise enjoy it. When I found myself asking “Who would like this?” I kept coming back to the answer “me”. Dark, broody, satirical, over-the-top gore.
So why didn’t I like it more?