Before we begin, let’s get all this out of the way:
Whether or not the hackers were from North Korea, or were a disgruntled Sony employee, or some shadowy terrorist group, is irrelevant. Sony’s decision to pull the movie was disgusting, and now the whole thing feels like a publicity stunt, which very well may be the case. Either way, whatever way: irrelevant. Nobody should be able to threaten/blackmail a company out of showing a specific movie and get away with it. The arguments about the hacking and The Interview were really disheartening to witness and for the most part I stayed out of it for my own sanity. In my mind, the issue is clear, and the issue remains clear. Sometimes something happens and honestly my feeling about it is: “There actually AREN’T two valid sides to this issue.” It’s unpopular to say such things, but that’s even more of a reason to say them.
I don’t care if it’s a Pauly Shore movie or a Martin Scorsese movie: a group who doesn’t like the message of a movie (without ever having seen it, mind you) does not get to bully the rest of us into not seeing it. People were talking about how the movie was obviously racist and offensive (again: without having seen it), and we should probably not “encourage” that kind of story being told. One idiot in a Facebook thread said, “I think we owe North Korea an apology.” That’s the kind of comment that doesn’t deserve a response. She would have thought Neville Chamberlain did a bang-up job in Munich. Scary. A quote from William Blake comes to mind: “The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow.”
I guess these people never saw Team America (which was way “meaner” than The Interview, and much funnier, too, but we’ll get to that). Or Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt, where Hitler is shown in the cross-hairs of a lone sniper’s rifle. Should we have apologized to Germany for fantasizing about a lone American trying to take Hitler out? Man Hunt was made in 1941 when Hitler was alive, and the leader of Germany. There are so many other examples of fictionalized fighting against a real enemy, in comic books, films, everything else. Whatever the case may be, good, bad, stupid, not, The Interview must be shown. Because what if, say, some wacko decided to send in an anonymous threat to any theatre showing a movie that didn’t pass the Bechdel Test? Would we cave then? Because, believe me, that is not far outside the scope of possibility, and Sony’s caving to the threats made it inevitable. It would be a go-ahead to any individual with a grievance.
It’s not about the specific movie and whether or not it is good, or perfect, or hilarious, or unfunny and bad. It’s not at all about the quality of the movie, and those who were saying, “It’s a stupid Seth Rogen movie, who cares” are the scariest of them all. It’s not even about the subject matter. The movie should be allowed to be seen. I would be arguing for this even if it were a movie made by someone I didn’t like, even if it were a movie that made light of subject matter I took seriously.
It IS “the principle of the thing.” People can certainly go on and argue otherwise, but I’m done listening. I’ve heard enough. Then there were those who did believe it should be shown, who were disheartened by Sony’s initial decision, but who then were turned off by the declarations from folks who declared they would see the movie for patriotic reasons, people who declared “if you don’t see The Interview the terrorists have won” or whatever. All of that was seen as too reactionary. My God, stop thinking so much. If I go to see something and feel patriotic about it, that’s my freakin’ business. People want to police other people’s feelings and thoughts and interior motives. … Buncha busybodies.
The controversy raged, and then, suddenly, with a poof, came the news that The Interview would be released (honestly, something about the whole thing stinks to high heaven), and (hilariously) it would be small art-houses for the most part that would play it, not the big multiplexes where such a movie would normally play. So these itsy-bitsy art-houses were on the front-lines of civilization, basically. (That’s how strongly I feel about it.) So this little art-house in the Village, that shows foreign films and documentaries, was also showing The Interview. I walked into the lobby and saw two posters side by side: one for Ida, the Polish film, and one for The Interview. In what world would these two films be shown side by side? In this glorious beautiful world, apparently.
God bless ‘Murrica.
Outside of the “principle of the thing,” (as I said, I would have gone to see it if it had starred Pauly Shore, just to assert my rights to see whatever the hell I want to see) I have such strong feelings of love for This Is the End that if I had seen it in time it would have made my Top 10 for that year. It was on Quentin Tarantino’s Top 10! One guy on Facebook said something like, “You just are bummed out that your favorite actor is being punished …” The level of discourse was appalling. No matter how many times I said, “This isn’t about me” and “This isn’t about Seth Rogen” he wasn’t getting it. He thinks “racist” stuff shouldn’t be seen at all, and he felt very righteous about it: “Good, let’s not encourage such messages.” I kept saying, “But … you haven’t even seen it yet” until I gave up.
Small tangent: In 10th grade English, we were taught Catcher in the Rye. One girl in my class didn’t want to read it (her parents had told her they didn’t want her to read it). Our great teacher made her write a paper about why she wouldn’t read it, and to do it not defensively, but offensively, in the same way that a regular term paper should be offensive: strong Thesis Statement, Back That Shit Up with examples, make your case, prove your points. (He was the one who taught me how to write a term paper. Great teacher.) He allowed her to not read the book, respecting her reasons (she gave religious reasons), but she would not be allowed to “sit out” that entire section of the class. Her participation would be about the book’s controversial reputation and how she understood it. The controversy about the book was part of what he taught us, he included it in our discussions. I loved the book so much I couldn’t understand what the problem was, and I had a lot of conversations at home with my dad about it. Why couldn’t so-and-so read it? Why didn’t she even want to see if she liked it, or if her mind would be changed? I could not understand – literally could not get my brain around – the kind of brain that refused to be challenged. Maybe she would have hated the book. That’s a possibility. But to decide beforehand? THAT I couldn’t get. It was an awakening for me of the importance of such matters. There are books I have read (not many, but they do exist) that I have wished I could un-read. There is one paragraph in Less Than Zero that haunts me, and there are times I honestly wish I had never read it. The book actually traumatized me. But whatever, I read it, and it was a vision of ugliness and heartlessness so profound that my spirit revolted from it. Good. That’s an appropriate response, yes?
The audience at the Cinema Village is made up of a regular crowd, some quite eccentric, little old people who come in with their rustling bags of lunch, they leave early, they come late, they talk to one another loudly in the back row. These are 70, 80 year old people who probably live in the neighborhood and have been coming to that theatre forever. To put it frankly: not Seth Rogen’s typical audience. I walked into the theatre and the place was packed, way more packed than it ever has been in all the years I have gone to see movies there. There were the “regulars,” you could pick them out, the little old people in their galoshes, with their umbrellas, carrying many bags, and then there were others, who maybe mostly frequent multiplexes, but came down to the Village to see The Interview (it was only playing at the Village and up at Lincoln Center, so probably every show was packed.) It was a totally mixed crowd, in other words.
An old woman sat down behind me, she had long white hair, coming out from underneath her fuzzy red beret, and she said to her friend, “This is not my type of movie at all. But I’m here for the principle of the thing.”
My ‘Murrican heart soared.
Anyway, after all that blabber, how’s the movie?
Like I said, I like this group of people, have liked their movies in the past, and like the things they have chosen to create thus far. There’s a dude-bro thing, but I don’t mind that if it’s funny. There’s also a questioning and deepening of the “dude-bro” cliche, which we really saw clearly in This Is the End. This Is the End had a sweetness to it I totally did not expect. I’ve seen it a couple of times and it holds up.
The Interview is hilarious, taking place in a wicked alternate reality, just off-center from our own, and some of it reminded me of Mel Brooks’ bold-ness. Some of the jokes don’t work, there’s a sloppiness to some of it: it feels like they might have included things that happened in rehearsal, or things they bull-shitted about in rap sessions about the script, things they all found funny but then it falls flat onscreen somehow. (James Franco’s long monologue about having “stink-dick” is what immediately comes to mind. It may have been hilarious in an improv-rehearsal, but it just couldn’t sustain itself in the context of the scene.) But, in general, it’s a bold audacious ridiculous movie, stupid as well as smart. In this context, stupid is not an insult. It’s a compliment. The movie is a comedy involving two semi-losers infiltrating the most reclusive country on earth with a cockamamie plan to poison the sitting dictator. Of course it’s stupid. I enjoy that kind of stupidity.
James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a smarmy celebrity gossip talk-show host who, along with his producer, played by Seth Rogen, suddenly decides that he is going to take an opportunity to kill Kim Jong-un. Because, yeah, that makes sense. And Seth Rogen’s character, who started out as a journalist, is in the midst of a bit of an existential crisis: Did I go to journalism school so that I could report on Kim Kardashian’s baby bump? What the hell am I doing with my life? So he’s looking to shake things up, prove himself, become “relevant.” When they hear through some random North Korean Wikipedia grapevine, that Kim Jong-un loves Dave Skylark, the duo sees an opportunity. Negotiations begin to get an exclusive interview. It is secretive cloak-and-dagger stuff, with helicopters meeting Seth Rogen in some mountainous area in China, giving him instructions from the North Korean side. At some point, a hottie from the CIA (Lizzy Caplan, whom I ADORE) gets involved and trains Dave in how to use these little poison strips that can kill Kim Jong-un. You are our only hope, Dave Skylark! pleads the CIA. Ridiculous!
Randall Park plays Kim Jong-un as a lonely guy with a Boy Band haircut, who is so overwhelmed by his fanboy appreciation of Dave Skylark that in their first meeting, he murmurs to himself, “Don’t say anything stupid, Kim.” (Tears of laughter. It’s a very funny performance.) Kim Jong-un tears up when he hears Katy Perry’s “Firework,” especially the chorus. “Not the chorus,” he pleads to Dave at one moment, because he knows he will start to cry. He parades Dave Skylark around Pyongyang, showing him fat children (see? no starvation here!) and grocery stores overflowing with food. Just as “useful idiots” (as termed by Stalin) were shown around Russia in the early 1930s, and shown essentially trompe l’oeil scenes of plenty and happy peasants working with smiles on their faces. These “useful idiots” would then go home and report to the West how great everything was in Russia. Beatrice and Sidney Webb come to mind. Stalin used these people, and they behaved according to Stalin’s script. Potemkin Village stuff. Dave Skylark is fooled. Dave Skylark is the definition of a “useful idiot” and Franco is hilarious in showing how easily he is manipulated by a master manipulator. Rogen, as producer, begs Dave to take everything with a grain of salt, to stick with the plan, stay cynical … this guy is a DICTATOR, remember.
There are a couple of romances that spring up, Franco gets a crush on the CIA agent handling their trip (the aforementioned Lizzy Caplan), and Rogen crushes on Sook (Diana Bang), their frightening North Korean tour-guide and handler. The two female characters are in positions of power, far superior in status to the idiot-men who are the leads of the film (I feel it is important to note this: they may end up being girlfriends or at least objects of sexual fantasy, but they’re each a bad-ass played by two very funny actresses. Diana Bang has a moment where she lets loose with an automatic weapon that is one of the funniest moments in the film. She looks like a MANIAC.) There are some really funny sequences. The whole film opens with a clip of Dave Skylark interviewing Eminem on his show. (Eminem went uncredited.) Franco’s behavior is perfectly Ryan Seacrest-y – sycophantic, calling Eminem “Em” (so funny). Eminem does not crack a smile. He plays it totally deadpan. The scene is effortlessly comedic and such a strongly set-up situation it plays itself. I love that Eminem agreed to do it. There’s another funny scene later, where Rob Lowe, as himself, admits on air to Dave Skylark that he is bald, and he takes off his toupee on the air, saying vulnerably, with tears in his eyes, his head bald, “I feel so free right now.” This type of humor hits my own personal sweet spot. Your mileage may vary.
There are some scenes that show more effort, but for the most part, it feels like what it should feel: a satirical comedy about a ruthless dictator getting his long-overdue comeuppance (not just in the eyes of the U.S. but in the eyes of his own people who fear and loathe him). In that way, the film is radical. The North Korean people are not made fun of at all. They are shown as underfed, cowed, terrified, trying to survive in a lunatic atmosphere. Their leader is the target of all of the jokes. It’s a fantasy: a fantasy of taking out someone who is generally agreed by anyone who knows anything to be a dictator, starving and imprisoning his own people, living in a bubble of his own delusional reality. Into that fascist world strolls two bumbling idiots from America who have learned about North Korea from the Wikipedia page and who are both in this for themselves, for career advancement, for prestige. Those motivations shift during the course of the film. Dave Skylark goes into practically a brainwashed state as he hangs out with Kim, playing basketball, listening to Katy Perry … his vanity is gratified by Kim’s hero-worship of him. Then he has to wake up and understand that everything he is seeing has been a Potemkin Village, erected solely for his benefit.
The Interview is no This Is the End (it’s more uneven in tone, the comedy a bit more ragged around the edges), but it’s funny, and I enjoyed it.
But what I enjoyed even more was hearing the laughter from the little old lady in the fuzzy red beret sitting behind me, the one who has probably never seen a Seth Rogen movie in her life. She laughed at every joke, and there was a delighted sound of surprise there, a sound of discovery.
She may have gone to see it for “the principle of the thing,” but that laughter told the most important story.