Michael Roffman (MR): What a strange world we’ve lived in these past few weeks. The leaks, the threats, and the indecision — all attention for a ridiculous action comedy that would otherwise pass by as another screwball exercise courtesy of Seth Rogen and James Franco. Well, it’s Christmas Eve, I’m sitting in my living room, and only five minutes ago the end credits to The Interview washed away on — yes, in a beautiful twist — my Sony HDTV.
How did we get here? I’m still foggy on that. Think about it: Who could have predicted a film as preposterous as The Interview would ever cause such a ruckus? Doesn’t the whole idea — Franco and Rogen assassinating North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un — scream like a story ripped straight out of Mad Magazine? Apparently not.
For days, we’ve heard countless talking heads explain how this is all virgin territory for a Hollywood production. Now that it’s here, in the comforts of our home no less, I think it’s time to finally strip away the context and take it for what it is: a boisterous comedy that shares more with the historical fiction of Inglorious Basterds than any of the hyperbolic parodies of Team America: World Peace.
It’s exactly what you’d expect from Rogen and Franco. There’s a wealth of pop cultural references, a healthy heaping of bro love, an agreeable cast of comic delights, and an appreciation for the larger-than-life ’80s action films that they’ve previously embraced in Pineapple Express and even last year’s This is the End.
What do you guys think? And would like you a margarita?
Justin Gerber (JG): No margarita for me this round, sir. However, if you are somehow able to give me my time back, that would be wonderful.
Matt Melis, whose insightful feature covered the crazy “will they/won’t they” release of this film, said it best: “The Interview no longer can be dismissed as ‘only a movie.’” He’s absolutely right. The circumstances are wholly unique. For another country to halt the distribution of an American film is unheard of. Film buffs will be talking about this for the rest of their lives. Rogen and Franco’s names will never be forgotten. It’s just too bad that when you strip away the business-side of the matter, you’re left with a truly awful comedy.
I’ve seen one worse movie this year, courtesy of another comedic duo (Dumb and Dumber To), but The Interview is close. It’s maybe one more Katy Perry or tired reference away from sinking below the depths of that Farrelly brothers movie, which is something I couldn’t envision saying earlier this afternoon. It’s clear from the beginning that while together Franco, Rogen, and co-director Evan Goldberg, who worked on Superbad, This is the End, and Pineapple Express, excel in their own American backyard full of likeable bro humor and pot jokes, they are way out of their element here.
Any attempt at satire fails. Kim Jong-un singing Katy Perry with a North Korean accent? A montage of Kim Jong-un smoking out and screwing around with a bevy of strangers? Kim Jong-un saying “mother fucker” with a North Korean accent? Did Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer make this movie? Surely it wasn’t the guys behind some of our best comedies in recent years. And is there a more dated joke than the Eminem bit? That probably would have worked in 2003, but now? The Interview is a loud, long, and boring movie, but it will always be important.
Blake Goble (BG): Justin, there’s no denying The Interview’s importance as a success of expression. Yet admittedly, it’s hard to roll out an honest observation given that the dust is still settling on all the controversy and brou-hah-hah. What matters is that the film is here, and why shouldn’t it be? We’ve released fictions about geopolitical assassination in popular fiction for years (The Day of The Jackal, The Manchurian Candidate, Death of a President), with little contest. Avoid the hacks for a minute, or the finger pointing, why is this film the point of so much contention? Are people going nuts over the idea of this subject being done jokingly? Regardless, it’s been boggling to think that this film could bring attacks on American soil, and that the big chains wanted to axe it. So, congrats to Rogen and Evan Goldberg. This shouldn’t have been such a big deal.
Now what about the movie itself? It’s amusing, unwieldy, and often very dangerous. But at its best, The Interview is a deft work of satire. Justin, I think it’s superior to a Farrelly comedy, because the crudeness isn’t there solely for the sake of making nasty penis and Nicki Minaj jokes. It serves a greater purpose – mocking vanity and our obsession with media. Granted, it’s not always 100% on (Rogen’s “miso sah-rry” joke comes to mind), this is about a bond between two 17-year-old boys in the form of Kim Jong-un (Randall Park, in an unapologetic caricature) and Dave Skylark (James Franco, muscling every dumb line he can into the film). It’s funny to see two well-known men shoot hoops, listen to Katy Perry, and do other such boyish things because it dresses down personalities at the forefront of mainstream culture, and that’s a really powerful joke here. The Interview is just two doofuses, who happen to shape culture and media, getting swozzled and dicking around.
The concept worked more often than not, chiding at superficiality. It’s funnier to make Jong-un seem like a shy fan, whispering Skylark’s name in excitement, because in reality he doles out media mystery and intrigue around himself. And Skylark being a well-intentioned idiot speaks to the popularity of soft news. They’re not really hard indictments, or revelatory jokes, but it’s funny in Franco and Park’s over-enthusiastic hands.
If satire is meant to point out the foolishness of contemporary trends, then The Interview is pretty hard-charging in its mocking of the shallowness of media and megalomaniacal politics. One could contend that they’re the same thing in The Interview. This movie was all about the relationship between a dictator and reporter, and at times, it was very funny. Two shallow men who just want people to think the world of them. Yes, Rogen and Goldberg direct with the same lack of discipline they had in This Is The End, but they bring such attitude and recklessness, and it’s hard not to get worked up for such a silly scenario, but you feel it in the direction and writing.
Although, is no one going to point out the fact that Rogen is Canadian?
MR: Good point — if only Colbert was there to point that out.
The real star of this film, however, is Franco. As you pointed out Blake, this is a story of two 17-year-old spirits bonding, and Franco really delivers by hamming up Dave Skylark in all his unwieldy ebullience. There’s a genuine charm to his idiocy that keeps The Interview together, specifically how he’s won over by North Korea’s smoke and mirrors. It’s one of the funnier attributes of the story — outside of Jong-un’s unhealthy obsession with “Firework” (I was singing along, too) — and allows for some great sequences. A later scene at a nearby grocery store comes to mind that’s hilarious for its histrionics.
But it’s Skylark’s overnight bromance with Jong-un that ultimately sells The Interview. The moments they spend together are genuine and sugar-coated enough that we’re also won over. Admittedly, it’s not very original — we’ve seen this relationship before (see: 22 Jump Street, Pineapple Express) — but the strange chemistry adds a complicated layer to a premise that was very black and white. Park also plays a somewhat sympathetic character in Jong-un and the degree to which Goldberg, Rogen, and screenwriter Dan Sterling go to create some sort of “daddy issues” felt somewhat refreshing.
Yet so was Diana Bang’s Sook character. As Jong-un’s stoic military aide, she doesn’t get much to work with initially, but as the story unfolds, she evolves into a strong female personality that carries much of the action in a surprising twist. She’s independent, she’s funny, she’s kickass — it was as if Tarantino wrote her. Maybe I’m overselling the character? Probably.
BG: I’d actually argue that the Sook character was problematic in that you could see her both ways. Yes, the tiny actress brandishes automatic rifles and slays anonymously villainous North Koreans, yet she’s still a bit of a sex toy for Seth Rogen in my eyes. Still, she was fun, and unafraid.
Again, I was all in for that Jong-un on Skylark bromance, and the absurdity of the situation (the tiger scene actually elicited deep guffawing over here). Sure, Park and Franco tried way too hard at paper thin characterizations, but they committed to their jokey personas. Justin, you just weren’t feeling him, were you?
JG: Franco is awful here. I’ve defended him throughout his career, believing he’s worthy of acclaim for movies such as 127 Hours, Spring Breakers (in which he gave the best performance of 2013), and even earlier efforts with the Apatow ensemble. In The Interview he channels Derek Zoolander and fails. I can’t emphasize enough that I think he’s a talented actor, even underrated in certain circles. Unfortunately, his performance along with the rest of the production screams of Ocean’s Twelve, where everyone on set is having the time of their lives at the expense of the audience.
There is clearly a different point of view between myself and the two of youse when it comes to whether or not the satire successfully lands in The Interview, or even the simple comedy bits. As for the comedy in this “comedy”, if you’re going to sell a joke, you need to live in that joke. Franco nearly breaks during the first of many “You honeydickin’” jokes, as does Rogen during his strip search. I felt like I was watching an SNL sketch from 1999 stretched out to 105 minutes featuring Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz. “You got fucked by Robocop!” Thud. “Holy fuckamole.” Thud. And haven’t we exhausted the yuppie montage in slow-motion as champagne pops with slow R&B jams in the background?
My final word on The Interview goes back to what I know we all agree on: that we were able to watch it at all. I am proud that as a citizen of the United States of America I was given the opportunity to legally view a movie that would cost me my freedom in another country. My only regret is that I took Sony Pictures up on the opportunity.
MR: Bitter much? Christ, I don’t know. We sat together in that screening of Dumb and Dumber To back in November and I squirmed around in anger more than you. With this film, I just don’t see the vitriol. It’s stupid, yes, and many jokes do fall flat, but they’re thrown at you every 10 seconds that it becomes useless to pick each one apart. What elevates The Interview is that it capitalizes on heart. The feelings between each character — whether it’s Franco and Rogen; Franco and Park; or Rogen and Bang — all felt quite palpable. For me, if that’s working, the comedy affords itself some hiccups. Granted, I noticed a few (mostly lame dick jokes towards the beginning), but I must have lost count while laughing. Hey, to each their own.
BG: Comedy’s so hard, and The Interview may be for snarky teens or dark humorists, or perhaps it’s too grotesque. Regardless, as Justin pointed out, it was a small privilege to be able to see this film, somehow, on Christmas. Sure, we could rant about the cowardice of the big theater chains, or the fact that Interview is imperfect to say the least, but man, it’s here, margaritas and all.
Didn’t Evelyn Hall, in her biography of Voltaire, say “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”? We’ll defend Rogen, Franco’s, and Goldberg’s rights just by watching this silly thing.