In another reality, The Interview would be just another brofist comedy that came and went, and it would have already been blinked out of the social consciousness in favor of Into the Woods, or Big Hero 6, or whatever flash-in-the-pan movie a studio dumped in January because they didn’t have faith in it as a summer release. In our reality, though, The Interview will be remembered as one of the most important films of the early 21st century.
For better or worse.
I had the good fortune of seeing The Interview on Christmas Day, and I wholly admit that my interest in the movie was born from the Sony Pictures hacks. Prior to the soap opera between Sony Pictures and North Korea, I didn’t particularly care about the movie. But I detest artistic censorship in any form, and I was furious when several theater chains decided not to air it. I was even more livid with the people who said that not screening the movie was the “correct” decision, as it set a dangerous precedent for fear-driven censorship moving forward. When Sony Pictures did the right thing and responded to this by releasing The Interview online, it became an immediate must-see. I’m not the only one who felt that way, either, as the movie grossed a solid $1,000,000 in theater sales from the 300 or so cinemas that agreed to show it. That’s an average of $3,300 per theater, and any movie that can draw $3,300 per-theater per-day is a certified hit.
Now, having said all of that… holy shit, The Interview is the smartest dumb movie I can remember.
The film centers on Dave Skylark (James Franco, channeling his brother Dave), the foppish, immature, really rather stupid host of the celebrity gossip and interview show, Skylark Tonight. After filming their 1,000th episode (in which Eminem comes out of closet in a cameo I’m not 100% convinced was acting), Skylark and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) go out to celebrate their success. Now, Rapoport yearns for journalistic legitimacy, and when he learns that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a huge fan of Skylark Tonight, Rapoport sees an opportunity to score a once-in-a-lifetime interview that would bring him and Dave immediate credibility. The CIA also sees an opportunity in Skylark’s interview with the reclusive despot, and draft the two men for a mission to assassinate Kim Jong-un and initiate a coup d’etat that will topple the oppressive regime.
Of course, from the moment Rapoport and Skylark land in Pyongyang it’s one calamity after another. Aaron becomes smitten with a North Korean propaganda official, Sook (Diana Bang), and finds himself constantly having to endure the fallout from Skylark’s many, many fuck-ups. This includes having to smuggle a CIA emergency care package in the back of a Volkswagen, coming face-to-face with a Siberian tiger, and suffering several debilitating injuries in a third-act fight scene so stupid and over-the-top that it dares you not to laugh at its sheer absurdity.
Meanwhile, Skylark winds up actually befriending Kim Jong-un. The two men discover that they are kindred spirits, deeply insecure and desperate for the attention, approval, respect, and love of the people around them. Their bond is strengthened as they open up about their failure to win the approval of their fathers, and wind up spending a lot of time together playing basketball, drinking margaritas, and gushing over their shared love of Katy Perry while blowing shit up in Kim’s personal tank. Katy Perry, as it turns out, plays a pretty pivotal role later in the movie.
I was a little surprised by how likable Kim Jong-un was portrayed when we’re first introduced to him. Randall Park, an extremely talented comedian and actor (best known for Veep) steals each and every scene that he’s in and provides a depth that I did not expect. When he’s first introduced, we’re shown a quiet and shy man who is seemingly overwhelmed by the expectations placed on his shoulders – a stark contrast from how he carries himself in front of the cameras. When Dave asks Kim how he feels about the world thinking he’s “batshit crazy,” Kim Jong-un delivers what might be the most poignant line in the entire movie:
I’m 31 years old. The fact that I’m running a country is batshit crazy. What am I to do when 24 million people look to me as their leader, their god? What am I to do when my father’s dying wish was to carry his torch?
This facade conceals the fact that at his core Kim Jong-un is a petulant little brat and, as happens when brats don’t get their way, Kim is prone to throwing temper tantrums. When things begin to unravel around the tyrant, we see flashes of his brutality and willingness to murder millions of his own people to ensure that he is respected as the “Supreme Leader”. It would have been easy for a movie like this to play the character as aloof and rather dimwitted, but Park owns it and showcases the power of perception. In seeing Kim Jong-un transform from the shy and fun-loving party hound to the ruthless despot ready to set the world ablaze, we aren’t seeing the fall of a man, but the evaporation of a persona. In the end, that’s what The Interview sets out to do – take the piss out of the idea of Kim Jong-un, and to that effect it is a brilliant success.
When it hits, The Interview is more than just another comedy – it’s an observation on the cult of personality, speaking on the human response to theatricality and sensationalism and how we’re more prone to follow a charismatic bullshit artist than we are to follow any number of “unsexy” facts and figures. I just wish that the rest of the movie was this much of a revelation. The humor is hit-and-miss, and the script can be dodgy at times as it calls back to the same two or three running gags to fill an already brisk 112 minute runtime. However, the movie is able to survive on the chemistry of the actors, each of whom are on top of their game. Diana Bang is delightful and hilarious as Sook, and Lizzy Caplan, who is excellent in just about everything she does, is brilliant as the straight-faced Agent Lacey. Of course James Franco and Seth Rogen deliver, and even if you’re not a fan of their brand of humor (full disclosure: I’m not) you can’t deny that their chemistry is electric. When they’re on screen together, they remind me of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope from the Road to… series of movies, which is either high praise for Franco/Rogen or a damning condemnation of today’s cultural collapse.
I’ll let you be the judge of that one.
At the end of the day, The Interview is one-part slapstick, one-part lowbrow comedy, and one-part commentary on the cult of personality that has allowed men like (the real-world) Kim Jong-un to grip entire nations in awe of their perceived divinity, and fear of their wrath. I didn’t go in expecting much more than some dick and fart jokes at the expense of a man-child dictator, but by the time the credits rolled I was taken aback by just how smart the movie was. You know, when it wanted to be.
Oh, and because I referenced it in the homepage excerpt but couldn’t be bothered to shoehorn it into the actual write-up, here’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing in a pen of puppy dogs.
Yep. That’s certainly a thing that happens in this movie.