The Movie That Broke Sony?: The Interview

12/17/2014 4:54 PM |
Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

The Interview
Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen
Opens December 25

The arrival of The Interview, towing more political baggage than any lowbrow bro-down in recent memory, amounts to an impromptu test of the old saw that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. That this strenuously ridiculous entertainment is apparently the root of both an international incident and a debacle of historic proportions for its maker’s corporate parent—assuming anonymous claims of responsibility for electronic sabotage can be taken at face value—only brings into sharper relief the uneasy contrasts that define the film.

The high-concept plot, familiar in advance, sends TV-tabloid celebrity interviewer Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his BFF/producer (Rogen) into North Korea after the scoop of their careers: an on-camera chat with despot Kim Jong Un that will also serve as a handy cover for a CIA-engineered assassination. As with most of the Judd’s Kids vehicles that have preceded it, the buddy-comedy beats take precedence over the genre du jour, and in this case (except for the tragic underuse of Lizzy Caplan as their handler) that’s all to the good.

Outlandish as their central gimmick may be, Rogen and his co-director cum longtime writing partner cum IRL lifetime-friend Goldberg ground the film in the real anxieties of two young men startled at the speed and extent of their own success and reflecting on the values that have awarded it to them. In the movie’s most effective passages, the directors find a nugget of real subversion in their bong-fueled vision of geopolitical intrigue, suggesting that in the absence of direct evidence of daily life in North Korea, the best proxy available might in fact be Hollywood—like the Democratic People’s Republic, a world shaped by boundless egotism and reprehensible displays of conspicuous consumption.

Despite their sharp observation of celebrity culture, however, Rogen and Goldberg fall victim to one of Lala-land’s oldest canards, that Hollywood Movie Magic is not just a product but an unstoppable force for liberal progress worldwide. That naïveté gives the dictator the last laugh: whatever its effect on his dignity, the movie constitutes no threat to Kim’s authority. When Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, Tom Lehrer reputedly said, political satire became obsolete: forty years later, we’re still waiting for a replacement.