The Interview has already gained a place in history. It’ll still be discussed years into the future. I can’t recall a single film that’s generated international incidents and as many headlines in my lifetime, and this was before anyone had even really seen the film. For a brief while there, it looked as though we might never get a chance to. But thankfully freedom of speech has prevailed, so I naturally wanted to see just what all the fuss was about, while trying to separate the film from the controversy.
Anyone who’s read any of the official obituary of recently deceased “Dear Leader” of North Korea Kim Jong-il will know that there is nothing any comedians could make up about North Korea’s leaders more ridiculous than their own propaganda. Writer-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are at least somewhat aware of this, a few of the facts they use for comedic effect in this film are genuinely spread as truth by state-sanctioned media in North Korea. Few world leaders are more deserving of ridicule than Kim Jong-un, but the one “fact” about him that The Interview focuses on the most is exemplary of its misjudgement.
Said “fact” about the “Supreme Leader” is that he does not urinate or defecate. As you can probably imagine, The Interview attempts to get as much traction out of this one little nugget as it possibly can. In fact, this movie probably has more mentions of the word “butthole” than any movie should. This isn’t just restricted to Kim Jong-un’s butt either, one of the film’s lowest moments is an extended sequence involving Rogen’s character having to conceal a large item in his own. If you’re looking for sharp political satire, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place.
Ironically, The Interview is probably more pointed in that field when mocking American news media in it’s opening act. James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a moronic TV presenter who hosts a vapid celebrity interview show called Skylark Tonight, under the charge of his producer and friend Aaron Rapoport (Rogen). We’re introduced to his show with a highly entertaining segment in which Eminem (playing himself with surprisingly good deadpan timing) nonchalantly comes out, prompting much confusion and excitement in the producers room. They later learn that Kim Jong-un is a fan of Skylark’s show, and Rapoport hatches a plan to secure an exclusive interview with him in an attempt to gain more credibility for his show. Plot wise, The Interview is nothing special, after positive feedback from North Korean officials, the CIA recruit Rapoport and Skylark to assassinate Kim using ricin, much to their dismay.
The Interview disappoints as a political satire, but it doesn’t as a broad comedy of the kind we’ve come to expect from Rogen, Goldberg and Franco. There are undoubtedly a good number of big laughs to be found in the film. Not everything works, but the hit-rate is high enough for the film to feel consistent, skirting around it’s more crude and lowbrow moments. It also adds more proof to the old sentiment that ‘no-one tells better Jew jokes than Jews’.
Truth be told I’ve tired of Franco and Rogen a little. They’re both self-aware enough to entertainingly riff on their personae as they did in This is the End, but their partnership dynamic here has a definite familiarity to it. Their general “bromantic” arc here is the same sort of thing they’re used to doing, they know how to work off each other – they’ve been doing so since the beginning of their respective careers, but could be trying a little harder.
One person who’s completely new to the Judd Apatow-graduate players Rogen tends to surround himself with though, is Randall Park as Kim Jong-un, and that’s greatly to The Interview’s benefit. His scene stealing work here isn’t quite like I would have imagined any actor taking on such a role to have performed it, but it really works. The film does actually attempt to add some humanity to Kim, he’s part tyrannical leader, part giggling fanboy who likes listening to Katy Perry as much as he does destroying things with his tank to get over his daddy issues. The film never turns him into a one-note caricature, and his bonding scenes with Franco provide far more original moments than the standard Franco/Rogen ones. Also deserving of a mention is Diana Bang as a high ranking North Korean official who becomes a key part of the story. It’s a shame that what are probably the two highest profile roles for Asian-American actors in Hollywood this year are playing Kim Jong-un and one of his officials, but hopefully it will lead to more work for Park and Bang.
I rarely mention outside circumstances when reviewing a movie as they shouldn’t really factor in, but it’s not really possible for this movie. It wasn’t a film I’d have been rushing out to see when I first heard about it, but all the controversy undoubtedly left me wanting to catch it as soon as I could once I knew it was actually being released. I saw The Interview in the evening on Christmas day with a group of friends after a fantastic meal and more than one glass of wine. That was a great situation to watch it, and we all laughed numerous times. Had I seen it by myself in the morning I feel that I may well have been less generous in this review, but there you go. Ultimately, while not the scathing satire I hoped it maybe could have been, The Interview generally works as the big, silly comedy that it is.