The Interview Dir. Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen

[Columbia Pictures; 2014]

Styles: brom-com
Others: This Is The End, The Great Dictator, Red Chapel

Corporations are people now, so they go to high school. Sony is the popular jock, not so smart or sensitive; his replicant high school psyche needs a suitable pariah. North Korea and its chubby leader are the troubled outsider, secretive and vicious when provoked. The jock gets his popular buddies together to play a splashy prank on the outsider, but outsiders are nerdy and techie and have no friends and, therefore, lots of time on their hands to figure out how to do evil things. The jock gets his phone hacked and his stuff stolen and given away for free; all kinds of embarrassing things come out. But hold on, the jock has other enemies; it could’ve been anybody. The troubled outsider denies everything and makes new threats; the jock points his finger, begs the government for help, and backs down like a bitch. It would make a decent script; it probably already has.

The film stuck to the shoe of all this drama is a sometimes funny, ungainly leftover casserole of sensibilities and agendas (mirrored by the weird format of the copy we torrented, which wouldn’t rewind or fast-forward at any more than 2x in the TMT blu-ray player; things got way too real an hour in, when we tried to go back one chapter and ended up back at 00:00). I won’t bore you with the plot, but in its bones it’s an nth generation Judd Apatow™ bromance, minus the raw and uncomfortable guy intimacy of, like, Superbad. The texture of the guylationship between Seth Rogen (as Aaron Rapaport) and James Franco (as Dave Skylark) is established by Franco’s character mouthing his Motivation at tidy script-doctor intervals: “[something to the effect of we’re gonna do this thing together] so you will never leave me!” He also plants a big mouth kiss on Rogen, but more on that soon.

I don’t mean to be an a-hole — I mean it is quite funny in places. It could be considered either an action movie or a parody of one. The ending’s a tedious blow-up-the-baddies blockbuster kinda thing. But before that is what was likely the film’s big climax before the rounds of studio notes: Franco gets an opportunity to use his American TV interviewer skills to get Kim Jong Un to break down on camera, which in the logic of the story will destroy Un’s mystique and cause his downfall. It’s a Hindenburg of a scene, painfully wrong and unfunny, under- and over-conceptualized with zero connection to actual human drives and emotions.

But hey, The Interview is funny in (other) places. It’s inevitably a political film, much as it tries not to be. Kim Jung Un “tortures and starves his own people,” we are reminded more than once in the film, which did I mention? is a comedy. It’s like WWII-era propaganda, but the agenda here is different; it’s more of a general reinforcement of the idea that there is someone out there that is bad in a very uncool way; we can all pretty much agree we should kill him. There’s even some politico talk about forces within North Korea that want change but need help from the outside, like a dollop of Fox News yogurt to make it all more creamy. Then the John Stewart crowd gets a nod, with a stiff line about how the US has a higher incarceration rate than NoKo. Jesús mio, it’s supposed to be a comedy.

The film is most interesting as a vehicle for James Franco. He gays it up in his trademark unerotic way. He clearly has more of a hard-on for conceptual gayness than he does for other men, but he’s no less subversive for it; you gotta imagine he had a hand in creating the scene at the beginning where, on the tabloid talk show his character hosts, Eminem casually comes out as gay. Best line: “I’ve been leaving gay breadcrumb trails for years.” Franco once again proves that beyond his infinity of projects and publicity stunts and adventures in meta, he’s an amazingly gifted actor. His entertainment TV host is a specific, balls-out caricature, a crystalline manifestation of lysergic frat boy positivity and cartoonified Charlie Rose mannerisms, accessorized with risky colors and retro patterns like a boutique hotel. His reaction when Un gives him a puppy is a pure dewdrop-daubed sunbeam of little boy delight. Diana Bang is equally charming and hilarious as the iron-lady North Korean bureaucrat (Sook) that softens and then catches on fire when she’s alone with Rogen.

Perhaps all that matters is whether the film is funny. And whether it’s racist. I would postulate that racist humor is morally acceptable if it’s actually funny. In that sense, there is some very unacceptable racist humor here. There are also numerous dick, poop, and fart jokes that seem like they were written to fill a quota by someone who’s never been 13. In a longish scene where Rogen has to stick a large oblong device up his ass to hide it from the enemy, they miss an open goal of having him start to enjoy it. On the other hand, there are golden goodies like that Eminem scene, Franco’s Lord of the Rings impression, and Diana Bang pronouncing with utmost conviction, “He does not have a butthole. He has no need for one.”

Ultimately it’s a film that takes an hour and a half to say little more than nothing about North Korea, friendship between men, and the world of hard news vs. celebrity gossip, but whatever. It’s on Pirate Bay now. I laughed, I did!

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