I’ve been a big fan of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s collaborations in the past. Superbadmight be my favorite raunch-filled coming-of-age movie; Pineapple Express was a solid entry in the stoner comedy subgenre; I thought This is the End was the most pleasant surprise of 2013; and the duo’s entry from earlier this year, Neighbors, still managed to entertain me even if it didn’t hit as many high notes as its predecessors. When I heard that Rogen and Goldberg had another movie coming out this year I immediately went online to view the trailer. To my surprise, the preview for The Interview could hardly make me smile, let alone laugh. This should have deterred me from seeing the film until it became more easily available on streaming services and DVD, but, unfortunately for me, the tide of controversy surrounding The Interview pushed it into my home sooner than I anticipated.
The Interview’s tumultuous journey to theaters has been plagued with cyber attacks, terrorist threats, and forced censorship for its farcical portrayal of an assassination attempt on North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un. I remember shaking my head months ago when I first caught wind of North Korea’s disapproval, somewhat disgusted that a movie that looked so uninspired was getting this much attention. Recently I found myself even more outraged when North Korea’s attacks and threats were successful in thwarting Sony’s theatrical release of the film. It seemed that news outlets were more obsessed with reporting on the contents of leaked executive’s emails than the violation of our First Amendment rights. I felt a surge of indignant patriotism sweep through me, and then another wave of anger that a movie that seemed so thoughtless had generated these feelings. If I had my choice, Team America: World Police would have been a better hill to die on back in 2004 as it managed to be coherent in its satirization of America and North Korea while being uproariously absurd. Conversely, The Interview has been unintelligently designed to be provocative by carelessly meandering through its inflammatory subject matter without having anything to say about it. To dismiss The Interview as another dumb comedy is letting this movie off easy when it deserves to be ridiculed for its sheer ignorance.
The Interview is a story about two friends who work together on an entertainment talk show, Skylark Tonight. Dave Skylark (James Franco) brainlessly interviews A-list celebrities who feel the need to confess their darkest secrets to him, while his best friend, Aaron (Seth Rogen), produces the show and lines-up said interviews. Opportunity knocks when Dave discovers Kim Jong-un adores the show, and soon thereafter the two land an exclusive interview with the reclusive foreign leader that is sure to garner ratings and legitimize them as journalists. Catching wind of the interview, CIA agent Lacey recruits the unlikely duo as part of a plan to assassinate Kim Jong-un. Their close proximity to the supreme leader will give them an opportunity to administer poison via handshake and escape safely without being blamed. What follows is a series of blunders that stem from Aaron and Dave’s stupidity and innocence.
They are few and far between, but I will admit that there were moments where The Interviewmade me laugh. In particular, the scenes with Kim Jong-un in the latter half of the film managed to make me smile even though I had grown increasingly frustrated by this point in the movie. We’re led to believe Kim is an insecure, margarita drinking, Katy Perry singing supreme leader, which is the kind of silliness the movie could have used more of as a comedy. Unfortunately, the humor often left me feeling conflicted and ashamed for sympathizing with the foreign leader. Make no mistake, he’s meant to be the antagonist of the film, but his character is far more fleshed out and likable than either of our leads. This creates for a bit of a conundrum, and anyone whose brain hasn’t completely tuned out at this point will be wondering if the film is trying to make a point. Never, not ever, should you assume The Interview has any grander aspirations, you’ll only end up misappropriating your confusion for a message. Yet, the juxtaposition of these characters begs for some sort of commentary. Wading in these waters of controversy without having anything to say is akin to showing up to a baseball field in hockey pads, you’ll end up pissing everyone off as you refuse to play ball and look like an idiot doing so.
Our leads prove to be racist, sexist, and homophobic throughout the movie. Aaron and Dave are never hateful, but their humor is often reminiscent of two grade school bullies who tease their classmates for being different with unfunny accents, genital humor, and gay jokes. It’s not that I can’t find humor in off-colored jokes, I’ve been known to laugh at irreverent displays of humor incredulously in the past, but most of Aaron and Dave’s joke fall flat because they’re trite and rather dull. The Interview’s leads were ignorant to a point where I was embarrassed for them as a viewer. Dave is a loud-mouthed buffoon who I think is supposed to epitomize vapid entertainment talk show hosts, but he’s so brash and brazen that he doesn’t seem human. Meanwhile, Aaron fares only marginally better playing the straight man to Dave’s tomfoolery, but he is still a willing participant in the talk show’s charade to bait and exploit celebrity guests.
In our introductory scene to Dave and Aaron they are conducting an interview with Eminem, someone who has never been shy to controversy himself. Over the course of this interview, Eminem lets it slip that he is, in fact, gay and has written lyrics covering topics that he was fearful to address as Marshall Mathers. This opening scene would have been a great opportunity to say something about our society’s fascination with entertainment gossip, which usually comes at the expense of tarnishing a famous star’s reputation. Instead, we’re supposed to laugh that the renown rapper prefers members of the same sex. That’s it. That’s the punchline. He admits to being gay and we’re supposed to laugh.
You can find this boring sense of humor even earlier during the opening shot of the film where a young girl somberly sings in Korean about how it would fill her heart with joy if America was destroyed. Her song has lyrics wishing that all women residing in the United Stated be raped and their children be forced to watch. I assume it’s supposed to be so disgusting that we laugh at these uncomfortable words, but it’s just painful. Painting North Korea as a nation filled with hate-mongers not only made me cringe, but it seemed to contradict the ending of the movie. In the first half of the film the population shows little regret for their opinions towards the United States, and then somewhere along the way they decide to help our heroes bring down Kim Jong-un’s regime. For a brief moment, I actually considered that the movie was making a point about how dangerous it is for us to demonize an entire population for the insane philosophies of one man. Again, this completely negates several earlier scenes, and even scenes that follow it. Driving this idiocy home is a line delivered by Dave after evil is extinguished when he claims to be rescuing a puppy from being eaten by the now liberated nation. Consumption habits aside, the line is played for laughs and insinuates a population filled with savages. The problem is that even if you don’t find all of this racist, you probably won’t find it funny or thought provoking either, and if you do find it racist, you’ll swell with rage over how irresponsible the film tells its story.
Even the site gags tend to be painfully unfunny and offensive. In another scene the CIA uses a drone to deliver more poisonous adhesives to Dave and Aaron after they unwisely divert from the original plan. Aaron is told to rendezvous at a drop point far enough away from Kim’s palace as to not be detected by security. We watch Aaron hesitantly approaches the drop zone conversing over the radio with Dave and agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan). While waiting for the package a tiger spots him and he begins to retreat backwards, despite being warned by Lacey not to make any sudden movements. As the tiger pounces the incoming drone delivers the package into the tigers skull, killing it. I didn’t find the unsuspecting tiger getting brained particular funny, and my vengeful side actually was rooting for the tiger to get a meal out of the encounter. Hearing the commotion, Kim’s security comes to investigate and Aaron is instructed that he’ll have to smuggle the large capsule rectally to avoid being caught. We’re treated to the sights and sounds of this physical struggle. The act itself wasn’t funny, and the fact that it was all supposed to be insulted my intelligence.
I’ve fell like I’ve only started to scratch the surface when it comes to addressing all the problems with The Interview, but I’ve also spent way more time on it then it ever deserved. Understand that this is simply the tip of the iceberg. The Interview is plagued with plot holes, unsympathetic characters, and unfunny jokes. It’s bereft of any meaning, and more importantly, any inspiration. What’s especially disappointing is that the talent involved has proven in the past that they are capable of being funny. Whether or not you feel targeted by the film’s racist, sexist, or homophobic attitudes, I think we can all unite together and be offended by the film’s stupidity. If you’re looking for witty or raw satire, I suggest watching The Daily Show or South Park, which both provide similar entertainment nightly or weekly on television. The only joke that I will remember from The Interview is that we allowed it to masquerade as a film that demanded any sort of attention at all. If I was able to ask the filmmakers one question, I believe I too would quote Katy Perry and ask, “Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin, like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?”