The Interview (2014)

By now it’s clear that the magnitude of the turmoil surrounding The Interview is vastly disproportionate to the actual strength of the film itself. It’s frustrating, certainly, that this is the movie at the center of everything. Still, the American film industry is a weird beast. In nearly every form — be it Jaws or Sharknado — it’s been a cultural behemoth that reaches pretty much every corner of the globe. Here’s Commentary‘s Abe Greenwald on the current state of all of that in the wake of the movie getting yanked from theaters:

Hollywood movies are a monolithic U.S. export that have served to plant American notions of freedom and unbridled possibility in the minds of untold millions. From now on, filmmakers will think twice before crossing the next paranoid despot. That’s tragic.

That’s no doubt an important point, and probably the point of greatest significance that will ever be associated with a movie starring Seth Rogen. Is that a completely credible fear, though? Amidst the larger concerns of global politics, should we be worried about the “tragic” future of our movies? This piece will wrap up briefly with more thoughts on this. For now, though, let’s shelve the real-life cyberwar fallout discussion and just talk about The Interview.

Primetime celebrity talk show czar Dave Skylark is highly successful at what he does. Marshall Mathers outs himself as gay on Skylark Tonight, Rob Lowe outs himself as bald, Miley Cyrus opens up about her camel toe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt snuggles with some puppies in a little pen. Rich and compelling. Seth Rogen is Aaron, producer and longtime confidante to James Franco’s Dave, and he’s “the relatable one”. He’s also going through a bit of a crisis, believing that the work they’ve done on the show is becoming less and less important, and so he pushes Dave to dig for deeper, more meaningful segments. Dave delivers in spades: why not interview the Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un?

So Dave and Aaron get the gig and go to North Korea, tasked along the way by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un. The major problem with The Interview isn’t that this is in poor taste or that the plot alone is a spitshine-perfect display of American ignorance or anything like that.The thing is, The Interview just isn’t that funny. Sure, there are laughs out of Rogen and Franco, most of which come from the overwhelming sense that both of them are exclusively riffing and disregarding anything resembling a script. Franco is completely over-the-top and Rogen is conspicuously not at all, but the jokes are exactly what you’d expect out of any other movie starring these two (besides The Sound and the Fury). To call the humor lowbrow would somehow be saying too much. The laughs, then, never come from a place of true amusement because the jokes never come from a place of purpose.

…and they were never meant to, probably. A month ago, few batted an eyelid at The Interview. Now, of course, there are special screenings in L.A. with Rogen and Franco in attendance as if the words For Your Consideration were about to pop up behind them with a little Oscar logo. After the first poop joke occurs a few minutes into the movie I imagine the people who paid a solid chunk of money to be there began feeling a tad cheated, and after the next ninety-seven poop jokes who knows what they felt. The movie doesn’t even begin to hold up the media trappings it has acquired in the last few weeks; even as a zany Rogen-Franco comedy, though, this is weak.

That Greenwald quote would have The Interview planting “American notions of freedom and unbridled possibility in the minds of untold millions”, presumably awakening those young oppressed populations to the wonders of jokes about stinky crotches. That notion in itself would make me laugh (probably more than The Interview made me laugh) if not for the dark implication that all of this is somehow just going to end because of the hack and because of the comparatively new threat of cyberterrorism. If The Interview is the straw that breaks the Freedom Camel’s back, then yes, we’re all in trouble.

But it’s not. Freedom Camel rides on. In fact, if we’re lucky, this might mean that fewer movies like The Interview will get made because somebody walks away from this realizing that gags about Kim Jong-un’s haircut are no longer funny, if they ever were. Any worries about the unshakability of American notions of freedom and unbridled possibility probably don’t belong in the same breath as The Interview. If that conversation is your cup of tea, then exercise your freedom of choice and choose to skip this movie.

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