Long ago, Seth Rogen and James Franco met on a little known show called Freaks and Geeks that didn’t even last a full season before NBC pulled the plug on the show. Since, nearly everyone involved has been able to make the cult following that developed after the show was released on DVD into a mighty fine career. Judd Apatow and Paul Feig (co-creators and main writers of the show) have since become arguably the two biggest comedy directors on the planet, each with multiple hit movies at the box office. Linda Cardellini has become a well-used character actor on both television and in movies, Jason Segel and John Francis-Daly have both went on to successful careers as screenwriters/actors, and Martin Starr has become a pretty well known actor in his own right. But Franco and Rogen have shot a bit higher than the rest, first re-teaming for Pineapple Express, the wildest stoner movie ever made, in my opinion, which Rogen used as a launching pad for his own writing/directing/acting career with his writing/directing partner Evan Goldberg. They are responsible for Superbad, The Watch, The Green Hornet, and 2013’s This is the End, which also carried the distinction of being their first feature directorial effort together.
Now, they’re back with The Interview, a movie you haven’t heard of only if you have been living under a rock the past month or so. Originally slated for wide release on Christmas Day, the movie was pulled from release entirely after terrorist threats (real or made up, we’ll never know) were made toward any theater showing the film. AMC, Regal, and Carmike, three of the biggest theater chains in the country, showed their true cowardice and pulled the movie from every last one of their theaters. After a huge uproar, the film was to be released on VOD and any theater willing to show it despite the threats, which ended up being a handful of independent theaters across the country. I drove3 hours total to see this movie, only to realize on my way home a theater in town added it at the last minute. Oh well, I still had fun, even though I had to listen to my wife complain the entire trip. (To her credit, we had just driven 4 hours for a family Christmas gathering)
Every shred of controversy was well worth it, and I’ll have an article with more on that later today (titled The Day Seth Rogen and James Franco Saved North Korea) as the movie is hilarious, and about as transgressive as any comedy featuring the main characters on MDMA partying all night can be. Franco plays Dave Skylark, a weird mash-up of Jerry Springer, Anderson Cooper, and Dr Phil. Rogen plays his producer Aaron Rapaport, who has dreams of being taken seriously as a news provider beyond their silly celebrity interview show. The show within the movie has some hilarious moments, interviewing Rob Lowe and Eminem poking fun at themselves, but then Rapaport and Skylark get the chance of a lifetime; they learn North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a fan of the show, so Rapaport reaches out to see if he’s willing to be interviewed in an effort to get the show taken seriously.
When the dictator accepts, the pair gets ready to go to Pyongyang to interview Kim Jong-un, and after a night of hard partying, they are approached by a CIA agent (Lizzy Caplan) to see if they are willing to kill the North Korean dictator in order to limit the possibility of a nuclear war between the US and NK. When they agree, they are off to North Korea to tour the palace of Jong-un and experience the country they’ve heard so much about for themselves. Upon their arrival, Rapaport maintains his cynicism, realizing the farce they are being forcefed, while Skylark’s naivete leads him to believe maybe Kim Jong-un isn’t the bad guy the world makes him out to be.
When Skylark meets Jong-un, he further buys that he is a nice guy, relating to him while the two party and play basketball together. When Rapaport tells him it’s all part of Jong-un’s plan, the two men and their friendship is divided. Part of the agreement to get the interview is Kim Jong-un gets to write his own questions, but as Skylark realizes Rapaport may be right, that every positive thing they’ve seen in North Korea might be a huge fake, he begins to form his own plan to take down the dictator that doesn’t include killing him, but does include making him look like a fool, so his people will see he does not have God-like abilities.
The film is full of typical Rogen/Franco stoner comedy, but there is a deeper meaning to the whole thing, even outside of the controversy that has surrounded the movie itself. By getting the film released, and the controversy surrounding it only growing before release, it has piqued the interest of the North Korean people that are so heavily oppressed by Jong-un. The plot revolves around making Jong-un look like the ordinary spoiled brat he really is, and if the people of North Korea get to see the movie (despite strict regulations, they will eventually see the movie, this is the Information Age, after all) the movie itself might do just that. Because if Kim Jong-un really did have the magical powers he has convinced his people he has, he would have actually been able to prevent the release of this movie.
That’s what makes the release (despite numerous balks on behalf of theater chains and Columbia Pictures) of this movie so important. If terrorist threats had indeed prevented the entire release of this movie, Jong-un would have been proven right in the eyes of his people. The fact that the movie is in release, and nothing adverse has happened in any theater showing it proves otherwise.
However, that’s all beside the point, and personal commentary. Really, this is a review of the movie, and in that matter, I loved it. I found it consistently hilarious, with Rogen and Goldberg’s signature brand of toilet/sexual humor and hilarious gory violence prevalent throughout most of the movie. The winking celebrity cameos are unique in that few filmmakers like to poke fun at the nature of celebrity and celebrity culture the way that Rogen and Goldberg do, and I believe that’s because they can’t believe they themselves are viewed as celebrities for making their ridiculous movies that mostly feature themselves and their friends acting ridiculously.
The Interview more than accomplishes its goal of being a funny movie. It will definitely make Columbia Pictures plenty of money in the long run, even if it never expands to the major chains. However, I believe it will be in wide release next weekend, because even though those theaters might be cowards unwilling to take any chances (as witnessed by the rise of VOD for independent movies despite overwhelmingly positive reviews and declining theatrical attendance), they’re quick to hop on a successful movie after the fact. And why wouldn’t they be? However, they’re still puzzled as to why people would rather just stay home and watch movies rather than pay upwards of $10 (some places quite a bit more). I’m not surprised, especially with bonehead moves like this. Rogen and Franco couldn’t be sitting prettier, they’ve pissed off a world leader, risen their own stars, and have escaped unscathed, ready to do whatever they want next. I laughed, which was all I really expected in the first place.