Now that all the fuss about a North Korean group (allegedly) hacking Sony and threatening a terrorist attack if US cinemas showed The Interview has long died down, what of the film itself? It seems improbable that a bawdy comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco caused such a fuss, but truth is nearly always stranger than fiction.
It’s a curious one. Franco plays Dave Skylark, a vacuous chat show host who specialises in revealing interviews with celebrities. His pal, Sam to his Frodo, is Aaron Rappaport, a producer who has a yen for serious journalism. When the pair find out that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park) is a huge fan of Skylark Tonight they decide they must get him on the show’s 1000th episode. Amazingly, they succeed. The CIA approach them with a proposition; get into North Korea and poison the leader.
When they get to North Korea, Skylark and Rappaport are surprised to see a grocery store and a fat child- they believed the country was starving. Kim and Skylark become fast friends, bonding over their love of Katy Perry and margaritas. Unsurprisingly, he begins to have doubts over the assassination. Of course, Kim is not the jovial butterball he seems to be.
It’s produced and directed by Rogen himself along with his partner Evan Goldberg, and if you’re familiar with Knocked Up and Superbad, you’ll know what to expect; lots of gross-out humour and immaturity. And jokes about assholes. So, so many bum jokes. People putting things in bums, getting shot in the bum, poo… it’s really less about North Korea than the old gluteus maximus. As Basil Fawlty once said to an American, “Everything’s bottoms, isn’t it?”
Still, sometimes you just need silly humour. The opening scene, featuring a cameo appearance by Eminem, who comes out as gay, is bloody hilarious. A tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a playpen filled with puppies also elicits a chuckle. There’s a great chemistry between Franco and Rogen. Franco plays Skylark as a complete space cadet, and Rogen’s Rappaport is a long-suffering foil. The inherent black comedy of a personality cult is well-sketched, as is the bureaucracy of a communist regime. Particularly brilliant is the insistence that Rappaport travel to a remote mountaintop in China to confirm the date of the interview- something, he howls, he could have done over the phone.
I also really liked with Skylark’s adoration of a small puppy Kim gives him. He’s so devoted that getting the puppy out of North Korea safely becomes his number one priority, far above the security of his fellow humans. As a person who prefers animals to around 90% of people, I completely identify.
The Interview, however, struggles with tone. Amid all the bum jokes and talk of ‘honeydicking’ (it’s how Kim wins Skylark over) it seems that writer Dan Sterling is trying to make a serious point. The facts quoted at Kim about starvation and concentration camps tend to kill jokes about the gayness of margaritas stone dead. There’s also the elephant in the room; race. There are some very, very dodgy moments where it feels the jokes are at Asians rather than with them (an early scene where Rappaport says “me so solly” made me cringe).
However, there were two surprisingly progressive elements in the film. The relationship between Sook (Diana Bang), a pretty official, and Rappaport, continues at the film’s end. She has an important job to do and she’s not expected to go to America with him. It’s instead conducted over Skype. Secondly, Sook convinces the pair that the US has interfered enough in international affairs over the years and that the North Koreans themselves should be allowed to make things right. Such a recognition from a mainstream, Hollywood gross-out comedy is staggering, and it’s hard to imagine it happening even ten years ago.
The Interview is definitely worth a watch, but there’s no point in getting your knickers in a twist over it… eh, Kim?