After a crazy couple of weeks of Sony hacks, full on terrorist attack threats, cancellations, and a last minute reneging, I sort of forgot that at the center of all this mess was a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. Under normal circumstances, The Interview would’ve gone on to be a moderate success like the rest of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s recent string of films and we would’ve moved on to something else. But, these aren’t normal circumstances.
What’s now a historical piece of cinema thanks to sparking freedom of art debates and a simultaneous theatrical and video on demand release, there have been arguments as to whether or not The Interview was “worthy” of all this attention. Disregarding all of that and looking at this film as a singularity (basically reviewing the film as if all this never happened) yields the same result as if I would’ve tried to shoehorn in all of that “worthy” talk myself:
The Interview is pretty damn fun.
The Interview is the story of Dave Skylark (James Franco), a sensationalist TV journalist who specializes in celebrity gossip, and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen). After filming 1000 episodes, Aaron realizes he would like to cover more hard hitting news and after discovering that the dictator of The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), was a fan of their show, he sets up a one-on-one interview. Then the two are tasked by CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) to assassinate the North Korean dictator.
I’ve been anticipating The Interview for some time. As the proper follow up to last year’s extremely surprising This is the End (as I refuse to count Neighbors‘ major misstep), I’ve come to expect a certain level of intelligence from Rogen and Goldberg. Sure their screenplays are littered with crude jokes (and The Interview follows that trend for better or worse), but when broken down, the core of the comedy always comes from a well thought out place. The Interview does not disappoint in this area. The dialogue is tightly written and well delivered leading to some amazing back and forth from Rogen and Franco. As the two tap into a years developed chemistry (that’s so fine tuned that Franco gets major laughs from just his facial expressions), the incredible ridiculousness of the premise is digestible. Even when the film goes to some outlandish lengths, the two always anchor the ship and point the comedy in the right direction.
While the comedy is well thought out, there is an unfortunate sense of familiarity however. As some of the better gags lead to callbacks later in the film, it’s like the film depends on those gags to survive instead of crafting new ones. To be more specific, there’s the term “honeypotting.” Interview defines it as using seduction to manipulate (instead of the actual disgusting definition) and while it’s a notable gag the first time it’s used, it runs out of steam the more and more the term is thrown out during the film. Interview has a bad case of this with a few other jokes, but sometimes they’re twisted in such a way that they’re funny again. It’s just an unfortunate case of becoming desensitized to the material after a while. And without giving too much away, Interview pulls the same trick seen in This is the End (with a small bit of dialogue heavily foreshadowing the film’s events) and it’s just not as great the second time around.
But when Interview works, it works splendidly. The cast is so well placed. Franco nearly steals the show as his performance is seemingly effortless (as he combines an intelligent naivete with a suave and narcissistic demeanor), but the casual racism given to his character is quite troublesome. Rogen is the literal butt of most of the crude humor, but he takes it like a champ, Lizzy Caplan gets very little to do and that’s a shame, but Randall Park as Kim Jong-un is the real take away. His Kim Jong-un is at times humanized, but never quite able to shed the terrible image of the real thing. There are several nuances in his performances that could be easily ignored if you aren’t paying attention. From the way he animates his face, to the way he can stare off blankly to the side and still command attention. Park definitely needs to be in more things.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the elephant in the room. The Interview has a weird portrayal of North Korea. Sort of non-committal, sort of racist and nowhere near as “America, f**k yeah!” as recent events would have you believe. There’s always someone saying North Korea is a bad place, but there’s never an offer for a better alternative. Both the USA and North Korea are treated as interfering and destructive entities as Dave and Aaron are just roped into this American plan despite their wishes, the United States is shown to have highly advanced military technology at their disposal, and North Korea becomes a cartoonish hellhole of a country. Yet despite all of this, the film just sort of ends. Sure I didn’t expect an intense political discussion, and The Interview does get credit for bringing attention to North Korea’s issues to people who wouldn’t know about them, but it’s weird to be wandering around in this grey area.
But at the end of the day, The Interview is still a damn fine piece of entertainment. A concise, intelligent film that marks the maturing of the stereotypical “stoner comedy” framework (taking a crazy premise and sticking two random guys into it) as the actors themselves grow older and more confident in other styles of work and experiment with interesting ideas and perspectives. It’s stylishly shot (with some wonderful red “communist” hues and backgrounds), and the soundtrack gives empty scenes poignancy.
I mean, I had fun…unless I was honeypotted. Whatever, they hate us cause they ain’t us.