Despite making a career of playing the same manchild, Seth Rogen (together with longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg) has consistently used his broadness as a vehicle for laughing at the stuff that makes us uncomfortable: cancer (50/50), the apocalypse (This Is the End) and even Zac Efron’s abs (Neighbors). All kidding aside, Rogen & Goldberg written & produced films have always been unafraid to go places that most people won’t and The Interview marks the first time he goes to a place that most people actually can’t: North Korea.
The film is a demented blend of influences from Cheech & Chong, Spies Like Us, The Great Dictator and Inglourious Basterds of all things and it follows the hysterically violent and culturally insensitive misadventures of idiotic entertainment news talk-show host Dave Skylark (James Franco, hamming it up a bit too far) and his underachieving producer, Aaron (Seth Rogen, playing the straight man in a comedic duo for once). The bumbling duo are enlisted by the CIA (represented by a delightfully straight-laced Lizzy Caplan) to assassinate the world’s most reclusive tyrant, Kim Jong-Un (played by an unrecognizable Randall Park). Cue all manner of scatological humor, a stoner buddy comedy and a send up of Hollywood’s predilection of Orientalism (and even Asia’s relation to western pop culture) with a light dash of satirical elements. There’s tremendous energy to the film and a momentum to the film’s humor. Since much of the film was improvised it can’t be helped that some of the jokes fall flat or are just plain cringe-worthy. Often I found the satirical elements and the absurdism on display much stronger material than the film’s paint-by-numbers lowbrow humor. While the jokes were often hit or miss, the cast is great.
The chemistry between Rogen and Franco is palpable and more than makes up for some of Franco’s inconsistent choices in his comedic performance. Other than the main duo we have relative newcomer Diana Bang as Sook, who starts the film as a “Dragon Lady” stereotype, but the film has more on its mind than that. Sook eventually reveals a full humanity that ends up portraying the sympathetic North Korean voice in a movie that probably didn’t need to consider that at all as long as the jokes were good. What’s more, Bang gets many chances to be actually funnier than the leads, something all too uncommon in guy-oriented studio comedies. However, it’s Park’s performance that elevates the premise of a late-night tv sketch into the surprisingly compelling and genuinely radical feature, the actor portraying Kim as an endearingly deranged despot with nuclear-sized issues. This is a career-making performance for Park, yes, he’s playing ultimately a broadly crazy dictator, but he’s a crazy dictator with a lot going on. He’s vulnerable and sweet – he’s even kind of cute in the way he idolizes Franco’s Dave Skylark – and Park gives him an affability that makes you actually empathize with the tubby tyrant. Whether he’s trash talking or singing Katy Perry, Park’s Kim is somewhat likeable. And that works within the story. See, the filmmakers seem enamored of the idea that Kim is viewed as a living god (something widely reported and corroborated), and develop his character’s insecurities to form the cornerstone of the film’s somewhat halfhearted but hilarious look at the fine line between celebrity and idolatry. In the US on Skylark’s show, audiences are shocked to discover that Eminem is gay or Rob Lowe is balding; but, on Pyongyang TV, audiences are carefully protected from the bombshell revelation that Kim has a butthole. And therein lies the genius of The Interview: it’s giddily puerile.
This film has some boldness in it, even though it never quite becomes some sort of satirical masterpiece the way The Great Dictator or Dr Strangelove have entered into our lexicon of classic cinema. There’s some genuine meat to chew on with this film beyond all the eye-roll inducing gay-panic jokes and toilet humor: the state of “infotainment,” the implications of putting political figures on a pedestal, and even some jabs at the farce that is “American Interventionism” are all touched on. There’s definitely enough going on in the film that you won’t quite have to “turn your brain off.” And it all crescendos into a spectacularly bloody and absolutely crazy finale that’s too good to spoil.
While The Interview doesn’t reach absurdist heights of This Is The End, if you can make it through the somewhat weak and problematic opening minutes you’ll be rewarded with a movie that’s mostly very funny, has genuine pathos and has a little food for thought. Was this movie worth all the hype and controversy surrounding its release? No, but it’s certainly worth a look. Is it just a simple dumb comedy or is it sharp satire? Neither really, The Interview is a demented farce whose slight use of satirical elements to elevate what could easily have been a lowbrow trifle.