Sean K. Cureton

Declaration of Inertia

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on January 31, 2015 at 3:21 pm
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

The Interview (2014)
Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Netflix Rating: Liked It

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are the powerhouse filmmaking team to contend with in the world of big budget studio comedies at the present moment, their continued dominance having a lot to do with a characteristic willingness to indulge in crass fraternal humor, often hinging on homoerotic, bonhomie innuendo, a little to do with their innate charisma and lovability, bolstered by a close-knit working relationship with James Franco, whose own insatiable demand for attention and notice seems disproportionately wrapped up in an ambitious ennui, and something to do with their having been pre-approved for mass comedy consumption by the likes of Judd Apatow, the unofficial Godfather of everything funny in Hollywood. Their most recent film, The Interview, is partially autobiographical, a la their last project, the end of the world romp This is the End, only this time around Rogen and Franco, the film’s two lead actors, are playing versions of versions of themselves, their characters given fictive personas and professional identities to inhabit, but for all intents and purposes appearing to speak directly on behalf of Rogen, Goldberg, and Franco, making witty banter and pop cultural references in a manner too informal to be entirely disingenuous. Franco plays Dave Skylark, a journalist with the credentials and business acumen of your typical Access Hollywood anchor, his own tabloid generating talk show less about the news, and more about generating controversy and blowing up the blogosphere, the first twenty minutes of the film involving segments in which Skylark reveals that actor Rob Lowe is bald and rapper Eminem has been playing “gay-peek-a-boo” for years through the euphemistic nature of his lyrics, formally coming out to the public on air. In terms of prior scripts and comic antics on both the big and the small screen, this isn’t exactly groundbreaking territory, The Interview as farcically impotent and socially stabilizing as anything else that Rogen and Goldberg have done before, the presence of culturally destabilizing commentary that makes for a great comedy no where to be found, save in the premise, which has to do with the assassination of Kim Jong-un, eliciting outrage from North Korea, and unleashing a slew of cyber-hacks of Sony Pictures internal databases, in tandem with vague threats of international terrorism presumably originating from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The question of whether or not nation wide terror amid calls for freedom of speech were all a part of an insidiously organized and deftly orchestrated public relations campaign on the part of the film’s distributors remains in the wake of The Interview’s release, its individual merits as a studio comedy secondary to its otherwise unearned status as politically mindful satire, Rogen and Goldberg coming out on top either way, the controversy surrounding the film ironically satirical.

Whether or not The Interview is any good is irrelevant given the surrounding controversy, with Sony Pictures initially pulling the film from distribution entirely, and American theatre chains across the country stating that they would not be screening the film in any of their locations, prompting an outcry for a film that, more likely than not, would have gone largely unseen by an audience otherwise uninterested in dick and fart jokes. In essence, The Interview has made a trend out of political satire, divorcing the genre from destabilizing social commentary, and marrying it to the sort of pop cultural cache more commonly associated with Che Guevara t-shirts, Disaster Relief Campaigns, and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, ethically relevant natural sources of selfless political activism selfishly appropriated by the Facebook generation. Through the act of watching the film, viewers can now feel as though they are actively fighting against a repressive regime, their own individual understanding of North Korean diplomacy as culturally irreverent as the film itself, the fairly stereotypical caricatures of North Korean officials more fun than an engaged understanding of Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian dictatorship. Undoubtedly, Rogen and Goldberg have no misconceptions regarding the frivolous nature of their film, and the finished project aims no higher than being obviously absurd, the film content to reach its target audience of high school and college age kids of a middle to upper class economic background, educated just enough to understand the political nature of the film that they are tacitly engaged in watching, their own interests having more to do with the sophmoric humor on display front and center, the political farce mere backdrop for your run of the mill Apatow production. The idea that anyone would think to make anything more of their film than Rogen and Goldberg have is fundamentally absurd, which might be why the outrage which the film has garnered has elevated the mundane nature of the film’s conceptual leanings towards more bona fide political activism, North Korea’s hyperbolic response to the film proof of the grotesque levels of fascist political censorship which the film only ever hints at satirizing, the politicized response to the film more culturally relevant than the film itself.

In responding to the film as a declaration of war, North Korea has ensured the public visibility of a studio comedy domestically that they might otherwise wish to censor internationally, calling attention to what much of the American movie going public was likely to ignore, a slight piece of cinematic provocation with little to no cultural resonance. What’s more, by taking notice of Rogen and Goldberg’s farce, the North Korean government has broadcast their distaste internationally, thusly proving the accuracy of the film’s critique of the country’s grasp of international diplomacy, and boosting the political cache of an otherwise harmless romp, ensuring the film’s visibility worldwide, and making a bigger fool of their head of state than Rogen and Goldberg could ever have hoped of doing. The fictional Kim Jong-un depicted in The Interview is a ludicrous caricature to be sure, obsessed with Western culture, vaguely effeminate, and a Katy Perry fan to boot, the character’s real life counterpart presumably dissimilar in all but outward appearance, making his projected dissatisfaction with the film’s characterization of himself evidence of yet another layer of irony, the two Kim’s assimilated into one amorphous entity, the satiric image of Jong-un presented in the film as believable as any politically constructed image projected in reality. If nothing else, Rogen and Goldberg have hit upon a source of naturally occurring comic drama, the actual conditions to be found within North Korea more politically absurd and horrendous than anything cooked up in their film, Kim Jong-un already proven to be an unbelievably cruel and surreal tyrant, his actions against his own people evidence of a level of disorientation with the larger world indicative of a highly unstable and dysfunctional nation. If The Interview is truly as dangerous to and potentially destructive of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, then their film is a success, its ability to destabilize existing social conditions and ideologies within at least one nation proof of its viability as a comedy, even if it doesn’t feel nearly as vital domestically.

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s latest is predictable at best, more often than not settling for the comfortably sophomoric, yet bolstered by the insane chemistry of its two stars, their camaraderie having evolved into something uniquely their own since 2008’s Pineapple Express, much of the humor arising from an intimacy between two friends. While the satirization of the political climate of North Korea is effectively cinematic in its grandiose pomposity, its comic overtones are often suffocating, going for broad indictments of a nation already known to be absurd, rather than offering any novel avenues into understanding the presumptions of character of a nation largely unknown, any facets of familiarity constructed by the film as wildly hypothetical as what we actually know of the reality of living under the rule of Kim Jong-un. The reaction towards the film, however, serves to set the film apart from Rogen and Goldberg’s larger cinematic oeuvre, the ire its depictions of fascism have raised from its subject of scorn proving the film’s fiction to be largely prescient, even if the script lacks the intelligence to presume any outright declarations of war, North Korea’s condemnation of the production the most satirically biting aspect of the entire picture. The film’s target audience will likely enjoy the film’s low-brow, stoner comedy, the politically outraged wishing to voice their own and others’ rights to free speech as Americans will be  left predictably bemused and bored by the listlessness of the plot, and the government, and more importantly the people, of North Korea presumably hasn’t seen the film at all, making the outcry surrounding the entire affair the funniest joke of all. Thankfully, no acts of international terrorism have been enacted, the film was released for the viewers who wanted to see it, and we can all go back to largely ignoring The Interview as an unmemorable, if admirably produced, studio comedy, a declaration of inertia, not World War Three.

The Interview is available to stream on Netflix Instant View, and is My Movies on Netflix: Review of the Week.

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