“[S]omehow, we have allowed North Korea to dictate content, and that is just insane”—George Clooney via Deadline Hollywood.
And really that’s as much as I’m going to say about Sony/Columbia Pictures deciding, at least for the time being, that they are washing their hands of THE INTERVIEW. Look, I’m the guy at Ain’t It Cool News who reviews movies, and sometimes gets a chance to sit down and chat with the folks that make them. I certainly didn’t think when it was announced that we would be seeing THE INTERVIEW at Butt Numb-a-Thon 16 last weekend that it would be one of the last (if not the last) screening of the film for the foreseeable future. At the same time, in the back of my head leading into BNAT 16, I really wanted this film to play there because I was afraid theater chains, the studio, or both was going to flinch during this game of cinematic “Chicken.” I had no idea specific threats against theaters were going to happen—credible or not—but I also knew that the sooner I saw the film, the better.
While people are certainly more than welcome to talk all they want about recent events in the Talkback below (although please spare us your assessment of the movie if you haven’t actually seen it), I’m going to do my best to concentrate on talking about the film itself and all of its subversive, silly, stupid charm. I’m actually shocked that people are judging the movie’s satirical value based on trailers and a look at a scene near the end. This isn’t trying to be fucking NETWORK, people.
That being said, directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (THIS IS THE END), who came up with this story with screenwriter Dan Sterling (a former staff writer on “South Park” and “The Sarah Silverman Program,” as well as a listed producer on “The Daily Show,” “Girls,” and “The Office” at various times in his career), do a fairly credible job skewering the vapidity of entertainment reporting and the American government’s habit of assassinating foreign leaders, only to leave a particular county in worse hands after the fact. Those aspects of the film are often more interesting than the poking fun at the ego-maniacal person that runs North Korea.
Frequent Rogen on-screen partner James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a Ryan Seacrest/Billy Bush vapid interview type and host of “Skylark Tonight,” a usually empty-headed chat show that typically ends with the guest in tears. Skylark knows he isn’t respected in the journalism world and seems to have grown to accept that because he’s popular and rich, unlike his producer, Aaron Rapaport (Rogen), who actually went to journalism school and is envious of a former classmate who now works for “60 Minutes.” Aaron has aspirations to turn Skylark’s show into something a bit more socially and politically relevant, which Skylark says he’s okay with as long as they take baby steps to get there. (Both agree that a breaking story about a photo that show Matthew McConaughey possibly fucking a goat transcends all definitions news worthiness.)
When the pair finds out through an obscure interview that North Korean leader Kim Jung-un is a huge fan of Skylark’s show, Aaron actually is able to get in touch with the nation’s propaganda team (led by a woman named Sook, played by Diana Bang) to set up an interview. While Aaron and Dave are debating how much control they will give the North Koreans in terms of the questions asked, they are soon contacted by the CIA’s Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) to coordinate an assassination attempt on Kim’s life while the boys are conducting the interview. Antics ensue…
Allow me to reiterate in case you missed it earlier: THE INTERVIEW is exists in this world to be a stupid comedy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t funny—far from it. In a strange turn of events, Rogen plays straight man to Franco’s over-the-top portrayal of an insecure TV personality who is so desperate to be seen as an artist that he will accept the friendship of a sociopathic dictator like Kim (Randall Park). Park’s work here alone is enough of a reason to get his movie in theaters as soon as possible. He has adopted the persona of a mild-mannered fanboy (bordering on fangirl) in playing Kim Jung-un. He’s full-on starstruck by Skylark, and it’s clear the dictator is a super-fan…or is he?
The point is made frequently that Kim is a master manipulator of the media, who will use any display of acceptance from the West as a way of justifying the way he rules North Korea (thank you, Dennis Rodman). So it’s not surprising that when Kim kisses Dave’s ass with praise and talk of both men being misunderstood and called bad names by jealous peers, Dave begins to see the charming side of the Supreme Leader and believes them to be kindred souls. Park’s performance is so unassuming and laid back that it comes as a genuine shock when Kim gets a few drinks in him and shows his true colors later in the film as a man to whom image is everything and his people are a distant second.
But Rogen and Goldberg do attempt to keep the proceedings reality-based to a point. While they jokingly deal with the many beliefs that the North Korean people hold about Kim (believe they’ll be killed if they question them), they also give us glimpses of the harsh realities of living in fear, starvation and without some of the basic needs for living. THE INTERVIEW isn’t meant in any way to be an exposé about life in North Korea, but it doesn’t forget to explore the reasons that Kim is hated and/or feared by most of the world (those pesky nukes certainly are part of the equation).
I’m probably painting a picture of THE INTERVIEW that sounds much more serious than it is. The fact is, the filmmakers care just as much about a scene in which Aaron must insert a fairly sizable tracking device into his ass to keep it hidden from his North Korean handlers as it is with painting Kim Jong-un as a lunatic who would rather see his people die by the millions from hunger than appear weak. Not surprisingly, the assassination attempt on Kim’s life doesn’t go quite as planned, but Dave has a back-up plan that might actually help the North Korean people more in the long run (and no, that ending you may have seen online is not what I’m talking about).
Somehow, THE INTERVIEW also finds time for a love story between Aaron and Sook, which seems a little unnecessary, and in a comedy with this many jokes, a few of them fall flat. In particular, Skylark’s gullibility is laid on a little thick in the scenes with Kim and end up feeling like a device to keep the story going. The idea that Rogen, Goldberg, and anyone else related to the making of this film was “asking for it” by naming Kim and portraying him this way is absolutely ridiculous. No one could have seen this coming, and Park’s work here isn’t any more inflammatory than the way Hollywood typically paints standard-issue villains like Russian mobsters or Middle Eastern terrorists or South American drug dealers. If anything, this adorable version of Kim gets off rather easy on some fronts.
THE INTERVIEW is shocking at times, idiotic at other times, and funny most of the time. The skewering of entertainment journalism seems far more incendiary than the political jabs, but both are pretty hilarious. I happen to dig the direction that Rogen has been going in lately, both as an actor (NEIGHBORS) and a writer-director (THIS IS THE END), and above all else, I really hope this incident doesn’t silence or dishearten one of the stronger comedy voices working today. For the time being, dream of a day when you might get to check out this very amusing work that is apparently going to cause the downfall of civilization. We should be so lucky…