I saw The Interview and lived to tell about it.
Much has been made about the new Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy The Interview and the fact that it may or may not have set off an international incident. I had wanted to see the film before the brouhaha, but I was more adamant about seeing it after Sony initially cancelled the film’s premiere and its Christmas release over concerns about threats to the movie houses that showed the film. I thought that pulling the film was misguided and would have a chilling effect on future projects. I was very happy that Sony reversed their decision and decided to release the film after all, both in independent theaters willing to show the film and on-line. I would have preferred to see the movie on the big screen and support the theaters that were willing to show the film, but unfortunately none of the independent theaters in Albany stepped up to show the film. I would have driven to Hudson is possible (about 45 minutes away), but that logistically didn’t work out. So instead, I rented the film from Google Play, popped some popcorn and settled in on my couch to support freedom of expression.
Anyone watching The Interview solely out of some sort of patriotic duty who is not normally a fan of Seth Rogen movies was probably sorely underwhelmed with what they watched. The Interview is not any great satire of the North Korean ruler; this is not a film that will topple any regime. Rather, this is a typical Seth Rogen film, full of jokes about shoving things up your butt and other lowbrow humor, that just so happens to have the potential assassination of Kim Jong-un as a backdrop. This was a movie that simply wanted to incorporate real-life into one of their ridiculous movies; if you like Seth Rogen movies overall, you’ll probably like The Interview. If you aren’t a fan of his brand of comedy, the implied patriotism associated with watching The Interview won’t be enough to make you think this is a great film. This isn’t a great film, though I did chuckle several times. It may not be a movie that is worth going to war for, but that’s not the point. The issue was never the quality of the film – the issue was their freedom to tell the story that they wanted to tell.
The plot of the film is pretty straight forward: Dave Skylark (Franco) is the host of a popular show that focuses on interviewing celebrities. Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) is the producer of the show and though he is responsible for the show’s success, he is not fully satisfied with the show’s frivolous content and dreams of turning the show into something more serious. When word comes down the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of Skylark, the duo seize the opportunity to obtain the interview of a lifetime. They are then approached by CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) with one simple request for their trip to North Korea – assassinate Kim Jong-un. Though Dave and Aaron are not particularly qualified to pull off such a caper, they agree, though Skylark begins to have second thoughts once he spends some time with the Supreme Leader. Things escalate and comedy ensues as Aaron and Dave try to convince the other of the right course of action.
Though a lot of the funniest parts of the movie are indeed featured in the trailer, there were still plenty of laughs to be found in The Interview. I really like the easy chemistry between Franco and Rogen, so I may very well be a soft sell for any type of movie that features them. The Interview isn’t necessarily the most sophisticated movie, but sometimes you just need some silly laughs and this film has them. I was entertained throughout the course of the movie, even while listening for the sound of missiles aimed at my apartment (I kid, I kid). I liked The Interview more than I liked Anchorman 2 and I’d put it right in the middle of my enjoyment of Rogen movies – it wasn’t nearly as clever or funny as Superbad, but I did like it more than Pineapple Express.
That being said, I think that Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg need to branch out into some new directions. While I generally enjoyed The Interview, it felt very familiar. Rogen and Goldberg know what kind of jokes work for their audience, but at this point the enjoyment is tempered with the vague feeling that this has become formulaic. The idea for a movie that features two Americans charged with assassinating the leader of another country was creative, but most of the jokes in the film failed to live up to the originality of the premise. A lot of the jokes that they used could have been in any movie, and many of them have been used in other movies in some version or another. I just wish that the creativity that they have for the plot would trickle down to the actual execution (ha!) of the actual comedy in the film. I guess if it ain’t broken you shouldn’t fix it, but we’re nearing the point of diminishing returns. I’m not above some sophomoric humor, but don’t be lazy about it. I think that they can do better than running jokes about the sexuality of liking a Katy Perry song. Silly humor that is actually smart is possible.
Regardless of the above critique, I did laugh out loud several times during The Interview, which is all that ultimately matters. I sincerely hope that the term “honeydick” enters the common lexicon, which will make a lot more sense after you’ve seen the movie. I can understand why Kim Jong-un might not be thrilled with a movie that is centered on killing him, but in all honesty his character comes off as pretty likable for a lot of the film. Kudos to Randall Park for his performance which is actually way more nuanced than you would have thought; while ultimately Team America: World Police is a much better satire, The Interview manages to make Kim Jong-un a more three-dimensional character than how his father was depicted in Team America. He’s still obviously the bad guy, but he’s also kind of a baller which is an amusing juxtaposition. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the awesome wardrobe that Franco gets to wear as Skylark in this film. It’s not necessarily worth seeing The Interview simply to check out his ensembles, but I will say that his cardigan game is pretty strong.
I am glad that I got the chance to see The Interview, though ultimately this is a film that can’t quite live up to the hype that surrounds it. I still think it’s worth seeing if you are a fan of Seth Rogen comedies and if you want to support artistic freedom, but this is not a film that will change the world – nor did it set out to do so. If not for the big deal made about the film, I think it probably would have come and gone without much fanfare. It’s a silly film that is fine, but it’s right in the middle in term of quality and hilarity; it’s not the best that Rogen and Goldberg have come up with and it’s not the worst. My expectation were kind of low based on some of the buzz that I heard prior to release, so the film was actually much better than I thought it was going to be. This wouldn’t have been the film that I would have gone to the mattresses for if I was picking a film to defend, but you don’t always get to pick which battles to fight. I’ll always defend the right of people to make the movie that they want to make and I’m against censorship – let the marketplace decide – but I just wish that The Interview was a slightly better film – not because of the controversy, but because I like good comedies. Stripping away what The Interview has become, it’s a perfectly acceptable and amusing film that fans of Rogen and Franco will probably appreciate but won’t be blown away by.
The Interview is currently in limited release at independent movie theaters and can be streamed through Google Play, iTunes, YouTube and Xbox live. If you can, support your independent theaters.