The Interview

The Interview is  giant sandwich of weirdness. The bread on this sandwich is, of course, the fact that this film sparked an international incident and nearly brought a gigantic international corporation to it's knees. It's notably surreal to watch a movie that spends a lot of it's run time making dick, butt, and dick-in-the-butt jokes and thinking: Sony got hacked over this?

However, even if the Interview had been released in a more typical manner it would still have been a weird movie. It centers on a pair of Hollywood gossip 'journalists' who get a chance to go to Korea and have an on-air sitdown with it's leader Kim Jung-Un. At first the journalists are psyched at the opportunity to finally earn some legit cred - until the C.I.A. shows up at their door and asks them to assassinate Kim Jung-Un with ricin poison.  

On paper both halves of that equation make sense - of course journalists interview leaders - but in practice the two halves of the story are mismatched, since the Hollywood satire stuff is much lighter than the mocking a tyrant stuff. Seth Rogen, who stars and co-directed, knows that his bread is buttered by making funny pop culture references, so the film leans in that direction, but that decision doesn't always make sense. Introducing a heavy topic like mass starvation or currently active concentration camps makes a lot of the jokes about topics like Miley Cyrus' camel toe seem unbalanced at best and frivolous at worst. In the film's defense, Miley Cyrus' twerking at the VMAs incident happened at the same time that the U.S. was debating about a possible military intervention in Syria, so it's not like the two worlds don't collide in real life - but in both cases it is a bit of a jarring transition. 

The film's plot description makes it sound more straight forward than it really is. Many of the film's bizarre elements of the movie come from James Franco's performance as Dave Skylark, the vain idiot who is going to be conducting the interview. Franco brings the same manic energy he had in Spring Breakers to his role, but it makes less sense in this context than it did there. Spring Breakers was exclusively about candy colored excess, and as such most of the performers gave oversize performances. However, most of the cast of the Interview are acting like grown ups who have to do grown up jobs, so Franco's grand gestures and cartoony facial expressions are often out of place. He often looks like he's always a few seconds away from breaking into the "Daddy would you like some sausage" song from Freddy Got Fingered, even when he's talking to a world leader about economic sanctions. I can't deny that Franco gets a lot of laughs, but there are times when his mania in the middle of everyone else's semi-maturity made it feel like two different movies were being played at the same time.

Perhaps I'm overselling the film's oddness; this isn't exactly a surrealist masterpiece like Un Chien Andalou. I'm sure that people who have no tolerance for Seth Rogen's style of dick jokes will find it as tedious as ever. But as someone who is a connoisseur of his brand of humor, it did feel very different to me. Rogen's films have dealt with serious topics before (like parenthood in Knocked Up), and they've been stranger (Observe and Report wanted to remake Taxi Driver as a comedy, which is an absolutely mental idea), but the Interview still felt a little bit off the wall to me.

That oddness probably stems from the film's transitional status. One of the stated purposes of This is the End was to blow up the old style of Seth Rogen movies, but they haven't quite worked the kinks out of the new style. They're tackling political themes because they want to make slightly more serious films, but they don't trust that they can be serious for long enough to make a real point. I suspect that part of the reason why Franco's performance felt so rollercoaster-y to me was because they wanted him to be comic relief in scenes that didn't naturally lend themselves to being wacky. A more self-sure comedy would have been more comfortable letting the occasional heavy topic stay heavy, instead of forcing it's leading man to go from having a serious discussion of global prison populations to making goo-goo eyes at a puppy. 

In the long run I'm sure that this movie will begin to look more normal. Eventually the political crisis it inspired will evaporate and then there won't be such a gulf between what it is and what it hath wrought. Furthermore, if Rogen and Co. successfully transition to a more mature style then this work will fit into their filmography a bit better, and it will seem more like baby-steps and less like a mis-step. I hope their next movie does continue on using the new tricks they picked up here; comedy thrives on being unexpected, so all of this film's uneven decisions made it feel vibrant in a way that another straight-ahead Seth Rogen movie wouldn't have. Whatever they do next, I hope it maintains some of this film's weirdness, but in a more controlled manner. And also, that they don't nearly start a war - that would be good, too. 

Winner: Me

The Interview on IMDB