Review of The Interview: Thumbs up to Rogen, Franco, thumbs down to Sony, YouTube

the interviewThe great shame surrounding the movie The Interview is that it won’t be seen on a wider scale because of the decision by Sony Pictures to bail on the comedy fantasizing about the downfall of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Critically panned, The Interview actually scores as one of the better political satires made in many years.

Starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, who also teamed up on the writing, directing and producing, The Interview revolves around a dim bulb of a cable-news talking head, Dave Skylark (Franco), and his producer, Aaron Rapaport (Rogen), who are suffering from existential angst as they mark the 10th year of their nightly gabfest.

Searching for a way to move beyond shows gossiping about the sexual orientation of celebrities, and one funny scene with Rob Lowe and a massive hairpiece, Skylark seizes upon a tidbit from a news article about Kim, who is said to be a huge fan of his show. Rapaport reaches out to the North Korean government to request an interview, which is offered on the condition that the interview is done in North Korea, and that the Kim regime gets to control all aspects of the broadcast, including the line of questioning.

The CIA reaches out to the host-producer duo to convince them to use the opportunity to assassinate Kim, which they are more than willing to do, at least until they get to North Korea, and Kim (Randall Park) seduces Skylark via a bro experience that we can only imagine was based on media reports of former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s visits with Kim, involving basketball (played on an eight-foot rim), wild drug-fueled sex parties and bonding time.

Rapaport, too, is seduced, by Sook (Diana Bang), the regime propagandist with final say over all aspects of the interview, though Sook ultimately reveals that she and a cadre of Kim loyalists have secretly been plotting a coup, and see the interview with Skylark as an opportunity to effect regime change.

The first three-fourths of this movie are brilliantly done – the writing, the cinematography, the direction. The Interview is a departure for Rogen, particularly, from his usual gross-out movie fare into the realm of at least quasi-serious filmmaking, delving into the psychology of dictatorship and 21st century media at the same time and with some sophistication.

The closing sequence isn’t nearly as strong, though it does neatly tie up the story, maybe too neatly, and bordering on the absurd. That said, the Kim death scene described in media reports as being over-the-top is far from being at all offensive or gratuitous, and in and of itself would be no reason for anyone associated with or sympathetic to north korea to be offended.

The offense to north korea would come, if at all, from the depiction of Kim as a mere mortal, shudder the thought there, right, who, among other things, “poops and pees,” as it is related in one scene, and suffers from the same psychological weaknesses related to trauma in his childhood that the rest of us do (his overbearing father telling him that drinking margaritas is “gay,” to cite one example), and who compensates for his mortal weaknesses by projecting an image of north korea as a world power capable of bringing the mighty United States to its knees on his whims.

A Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy would seem an ideal vehicle for making notoriously isolationist Americans come to some level of awareness to the dangers of a despotic dictator who is constantly striving for the ability to project his will on the outside world, in a way that no drama or documentary ever could.

Rogen, Franco et al did a solid job making a movie that could have done that without seeming like medicine. Epic fail to Sony Pictures for bailing on the movie, then making it available through select independent theaters and on a wider scale only through YouTube, which earns its own epic fail here for not being able to handle the demand, with loading errors and screen freezes making it impossible for me to watch the movie on my big-screen TV via Roku.

Watching it on my iPad, I still enjoyed The Interview, surprisingly, considering the flood of bad reviews in addition to the difficulties getting the movie to even play.

Maybe at some point very soon everyone involved will have come to their senses to the end of giving this movie the big-screen play that it deserves.

– Review by Chris Graham