If you followed the news at all this holiday season, you no doubt heard of Sony Pictures having their computers hacked (allegedly by North Korea) over their film The Interview, where James Franco plays a journalist tapped by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.
Sony eventually canceled the Christmas day release of the film under pressure from the larger movie theatre chains, mainly Regal and AMC. (The latter of which is owned by a Chinese company and China is essentially propping up the Jong-Un regime,so there’s food for thought.) The cancelation brought criticism from pundits as high up as President Obama, who called the action “a mistake” and offered examples of how it could lead to a trend of US entities being censored by foreign leaders and even self-censorship.
In response to all the criticism Sony finally agreed to a limited release via the many art house cinemas who had requested to show the film, as well as on streaming services such as Google Play.
I watched the film on Google Play as my cousin had already rented it there. But if you plan to see the film, I encourage you to go the art house cinema route. This is a great opportunity for America’s undervalued art house cinemas to draw a fresh crowd that hasn’t previously enjoyed a film on their screens and who could easily grow to appreciate and support their local arts economy. But that’s not all you should know about The Interview.
As we entered into the 21st century, buddy comedies were all but phased out and replaced by “bromantic comedies”. The latter being filled to the brim with often lewd, racist, and sexist college frat humour. The Interview checks all these boxes and fits comfortably within the bromantic comedy category. That is not to say, however, that this film is without merit.
The film actually has some poignant social commentary hidden beneath its two penis jokes per minute. James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a self absorbed, sex crazed, dim witted “journalist” who interviews celebrities and gets them to reveal their big secrets. The opening scene features rapper Eminem coming out as gay. Clearly it’s meant as a parody on the likes of Piers Morgan and America’s obsession with celebrities. Seth Rogen plays Aaron Rapoport, Skylark’s more intelligent producer who is also his “bromantic” best friend.
Rapoport is confronted early on in the film by a friend from college who makes him question the merit of the work done by Skylark and himself. Then Skylark approaches Rapoport suggesting they should do an interview with Kim Jong-Un, who is currently threatening the U.S. and is also reportedly a fan of Skylark’s show. Rapoport jumps on the opportunity and arranges an interview in North Korea with questions written by a government media manager figure close to Jong-Un.
Before leaving, they are approached by Agent Lacey of the CIA, who talks Skylark and the reticent Rapoport into assassinating Kim Jong-Un (a task they mostly bungle). Skylark accuses Agent Lacey of “honey-potting” him; using her sexuality to lure him into working with the CIA.
Her response showed an acute and deliberate awareness on the part of Rogen, who also wrote and directed the film. Not to mention that Agent Lacey is brilliantly played Lizzy Caplan, who is closer to say Tina Fey in Baby Mama than Anna Faris in The House Bunny, and who is represented throughout the film as pretty much being the woman in charge.
Kim Jong-Un’s media manager is also a woman named Sook (played by Diana Bang). Sook is initially a militant hard ass but later softens romantically to Rapoport and helps to overthrow Jong-Un. Instead of following Rapoport back to the U.S., however, she stays behind to become a democratic leader in her country. Essentially portraying the women of the film as the only competent figures.
Yet these details don’t stick out unless you are looking for them. They are drowned in the constant onslaught of the disturbing jokes and objectification of women. My younger sister, who watched The Interview with me, found the film as a whole to be particularly offensive to women even after I pointed out how competently the two female characters were portrayed.
While Rogen was very carful not to satirize the North Korean people in an offensive manner and only makes fun of government officials, the plot of the film centers on Skylark turning the interview around to make Kim Jong-Un look bad to his people by highlighting how he has oppressed them so that they turn on him. (A point that some North Koreans have viewed as offensive; as though the message is that they are somehow too naive to understand the root of their troubles.)
Furthermore, Jong-Un’s power over his people is that he is believed to be a non-human demigod who doesn’t need to do human things like pooping (another of the tiresomely lewd jokes of the film). Yet Randall Park does a good job of acting out a man who is supposedly worried about being viewed as gay because he enjoys Katy Perry music and drinking cosmos. He is mostly a sensitive person with Skylark, but quickly turns into a maniacle dictator, demonstrating Park’s ability to give range to a character.
Despite decent acting, many of the joke are too offensive or grotesquely over the top for the film to be good. Luckily the film is short enough and fast paced enough that you can sit through it, but you may feel like you wasted your money. As a keen follower of international politics and lover of comedy I was set on seeing the film regardless of how bad it was. However, you shouldn’t pay to see this unless you are interested in what all the hubbub was about or you feel you are making a statement in support of free speech.