Silver Screen: The Interview ****
One of the lessons from the past few harrowing weeks of news coverage is that satire still has power. That’s a real revelation in the era of twenty-four-hour noise, where a cacophony of voices on blogs and social media compete to be heard over the din of a panoply of cable stations and an infinity of uncensored Youtube channels, podcasts, and satellite-radio programs. The ideological thugs who shot up the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo unintentionally proved the point that the artists working there were accomplishing exactly what they set out to do. Their words and drawings were perceived as a significant threat by the forces of intolerance and tyranny.
In a similar if less-dramatic circumstance, it would be easy to write off Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s The Interview as a political comedy that’s too distracted by goof-off juvenilia to land any big punches. It is true that the movie spends far less time parsing the particular injustices of a dictatorship than it does cracking Hollywood in-jokes and speculating about buttholes— specifically how large of an object Rogen can fit in his, and whether North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un has one at all. But you can’t dispute the notion that The Interview is effective satire. The cyber attacks on Sony perpetrated by North Korean hackers, and the threats of further retaliation should the movie be released, are all the proof you need that Rogen and Goldberg got under the not-so-great dictator’s skin. In his fervor to avoid being disrespected by a couple of American comedians, Kim Jong Un has shown that he can be affected by a couple of American comedians. It might say more about the man than the movie itself, but undeniably it says something about the movie.
The Interview is not the most pointed satire, nor does it make claims as such. It’s as much a critique of vapid American media personalities as it is a sendup of the world’s most secretive nation. Said media personalities are represented, first of all, by Dave Skylark (James Franco), the empty-headed host of a frivolous talk show that strains to pass off small talk as substance. The long-running show has made Skylark and his producer Aaron (Rogen) a pile of cash, but Aaron feels he has wasted his potential.
Then comes the game-changer: The show gets a major boost when Skylark accidentally scores a big scoop. Eminem, playing himself, casually reveals that he’s gay. In the rush of publicity that follows, an emissary from North Korea sends word that Kim Jong Un (played by Randall Park) would like to sit down to film a one-on-one chat with Skylark. The interview itself would be big enough news, but the CIA has even greater plans. They want dimbulb Skylark, with Aaron’s help, to assassinate Kim by dosing him with a slow-acting poison.
It’s an audacious premise, one cowriters and directors Rogen and Goldberg make good on, even as they stay within their wheelhouse of scatology and celebrity sendups. The story takes a particularly funny turn when Skylark finally meets the awkward, childlike Kim and begins to bond with him over their shared insecurities. Franco, who’s never better than when he’s playing a dumber version of James Franco, sells these interactions with the perfect clueless sincerity.
It’s misguided to fault The Interview for not packing the political payload to match the bizarre circumstances surrounding its release. Nobody involved could have anticipated the international hullabaloo it spawned, and the movie never posits itself as especially incisive. It’s a buddy comedy first and foremost, one that also clowns a much-loathed world leader. That the film lacks a prominent agenda, that it treats Kim Jong Un with such casual disrespect, is in a way the greatest insult of them all.
All the major movie theater chains were too cowardly to screen The Interview in theaters. If you’re looking for somebody to blame, start with AMC, Cinemark, Carmike Cinemas, and their spineless ilk for bowing to the mostly hollow threats of a petulant, truly petty tyrant. (Sony, after all, still planned to release The Interview theatrically before the mostly monopolized distributors banned together to puss out, and did still play the movie on big screens owned by independent theaters, demonstrating why locally owned movie houses remain vital.) You can download it on iTunes, order it up through Mediacom’s Video on Demand, or access it through Youtube.
At a New Year’s Eve party, I talked to several people who said they had no interest in watching the movie but downloaded it purely as an F.U. to Kim the Terrible. It’s an exaggeration to call downloading The Interview your patriotic duty, but it’s the most fun you’ll have committing a minor act of dissent. Supporting the freedom of American voices to make fun of whomever they damn well please is the right thing to do. And yes, you can still giggle at the phrase “patriotic duty.”
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.