The Interview

February 20, 2015
Seth Rogen & James Franco in 'the Interview' (2014)
Seth Rogen & James Franco in 'the Interview' (2014)

I’d never felt much sympathy for the despotic regime in Pyongyang – until I saw The Interview. We know the late Kim Jong-il was a movie buff who went so far as to kidnap South Korean director, Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife, Choi Eun-hee, to help improve the quality of his propaganda films. One wonders what he would have made of this satirical portrait of his son and heir, Kim Jong-un.

The problem with any film that tries to send up North Korea is that it is impossible to invent anything more bizarre than the reality of this fortress state. The movie begins with an adorable little North Korean girl singing a song with lyrics such as “Die America Die… May your women all be raped by beasts of the jungle,” and so on. North Korea watchers have said this is one of the most plausible scenes.

After a promising start Seth Rogen and his collaborators take the easy option of giving us an American slob flick with geo-political trimmings. The basic premise is that foreigners are inherently funny. The second leading idea is that all the people of the world aspire to the condition of American popular culture, even if they subscribe to a wildly different political system.

The Interview seems to have been inspired by Dennis Rodman, the flamboyant, self-serving NBA star, who struck up a friendship with Kim Jong-un in 2013. “Guess what, I love him,” Rodman told the media at Pyongyang’s airport. “The guy’s really awesome.”

In the film these sentiments are echoed by James Franco’s Dave Skylark, host of a TV interview program that specialises in celebrity gossip and scandal. While Dave’s ratings are sky-high, his producer and buddy, Aaron (Seth Rogen), is suffering a bout of self-disgust at the fatuous nature of the show, and wants to explore some hard political content. His chance arrives when it is revealed that Kim Jong-un admits to being a big fan of Skylark Tonight.

When it is known that Dave and Aaron have scored an interview with the Supreme Leader and are bound for North Korea, they are approached by agent Lacey of the CIA (Lizzy Caplan), who captures their attention by flaunting her cleavage. (Yes, it’s that kind of film). They are soon drawn into a scheme to assassinate Kim (Randall Park) by means of a poison transmitted by hand-shake.

Needless to say, everything goes wrong, largely due to Dave who bonds with Kim and decides he’s a really cool dude. It seems the Supreme Leader likes Katy Perry, margaritas, basketball, heavy-duty weaponry and bikini clad babes. Yep, he’s the perfect target audience for most of the recent movies coming out of Hollywood.

Aaron, meanwhile, has formed his own lust attachment to Sook (Diana Bang), the uniformed North Korean adjutant who has been charged with organising the visit. Sook, for her part, reveals an unaccountable fascination for hairy, overweight American males.

Against all odds our bumbling heroes still manage to save the free world. To the viewer it hardly matters, as Dave and Aaron are the two most obnoxious, unlovable presences to grace the screen since the last episode of Dumb and Dumber. Armageddon may be preferable to the idea of living in a world where anybody might watch Skylark Tonight of their own free will.

The Interview can’t make up its mind about what kind of film it wants to be. It parodies America’s pop cultural obsessions but also extols them in slavering, laborious detail. It treats Kim’s regime like a funfair, while occasionally reminding us of his human rights abuses. When the much anticipated interview finally takes place, it is played as a scene of redemption for a Dave Skylark who is utterly irredeemable.

The Interview owes a debt to the North Korean hackers that infiltrated Sony’s computers, as it has ensured a level of attention the film would never have achieved on merit. The humour – relentlessly anal and lavatorial – might be considered offensive to many groups, let alone the North Koreans. It’s a story in which every male seems to be in a state of incipient terror over their own latent homosexuality. The filmmakers’ sensitivity to history and politics is on a par with Quentin Tarantino’s, as demonstrated in Inglourious Basterds (2009). One sees the sophistication Rogen and co. expect of their audience when even a film about North Korea is barely allowed out of the toilet.

The Interview
Directed by Even Goldberg & Seth Rogen
Written by Dan Sterling; story by Dan Sterling, Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen
Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, Diana Bang
USA, rated MA15+, 112 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 21st February, 2015.

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