The Interview is a very silly movie that somehow became controversial when, through a series of increasingly bizarre decisions by the people in charge of such things, it went from a Christmas day release to a limited release, hard-to-find film. Let’s be clear about this. None of this was warranted. The Interview is not, nor was it ever meant to be, a controversial film. Some have compared it to Team America: World Police but such comparisons are mostly inaccurate. For one thing, Team America is a satire in the traditional definition of that genre. It is a goofy comedy with something to say, with a point of view, poking fun at our own world, our values, our actions, and our own fallible human nature. The Interview has no such goal. It is, simply put, a goofy comedy with elements of world politics as part of its plot. It isn’t trying to comment on those politics (for the most part), and it is neither an indictment or criticism of those politics. It is just some folks goofing around for two hours, taking unlikely protagonists and dropping them in the middle of an absurd situation.
This is why its controversial nature is even weirder. Whereas something like Team America had a lot of thoughts on its mind, wrestling with such themes as the self-importance of actors, the absurdity of extreme political ideologies (right and left), the problems with trying to shoot every problem, and the tropes of the action-adventure genre, The Interview is almost entirely about what would be funny or weird, with politics taking a distance second (when they show up at all).
Is there any safer dictator to make fun of than Kim Jong Un? North Korea is not a country anyone in the western world has much fondness for and Kim Jong Un is about as cartoonish as you can get. Few could defend the sad state North Korea is in, and the outlandish nature of the country itself (though depressing) is rife with absurdity. The Interview pokes some fun at the idea of celebrities as heroes, though everyone in this movie is so goofy and ridiculous, it feels weird to have to point that out.
But here we are.
A lot of this, of course, has to do with the broad strokes we paint all genres with. I get mislabeled as a satirist quite often, and I’ve given up (mostly) fighting that label. Labels themselves aren’t important except when the confuse the issue, as they do here (and often in my own work). The Interview is not meant to be measured as any sort of political statement (other than obviously that Kim Jong Un is probably a messed up guy). It isn’t meant to criticize American foreign policy or, really, much of anything. It’s meant to be a weird comedy. That’s it. That’s it’s mission statement.
That doesn’t mean politics can’t still be read into it, but there’s a difference between incidental politics and intentional statements. The closest thing to any sort of cultural criticism you can get from The Interview is that celebrities are dumb and admired too easily. That’s not a bad statement, but it’s hardly groundbreaking. Even then, it’s in the background of the story, not the front and center.
Instead, the film is a bunch of weird gags and absurd interactions. Seth Rogan faces down a tiger. Kim Jong Un has an emotional breakdown over a Katie Perry song. Our heroes race to save the day from nuclear Armageddon. All of it works within this alternate universe created, but none of it is meant to be believable or serious commentary. Taken on that level, the movie is a stellar success. I laughed. I enjoyed it very much. It was entertaining in an over-the-top, inspired manner that amused me more than most movies that try to amuse me do.
About the only semi-legitimate criticism of the film on a contextual level are thoughts of racial insensitivity and perhaps some sexism. This is a harder discussion because, frankly, I didn’t feel there was much of either in the film. The North Koreans themselves come across as stock characters for the most part, but the movie doesn’t often play up cultural differences for laughs. There’s a sequence where Seth Rogan travels through China, and never once, through the montage, do we see him dismissing the culture. Instead, he seems to actually be enjoying the trip, including eatiweird” food and smoking cigarettes with a train full of friendly strangers. The North Korean guards don’t get many lines, but the ones that do come across as believable people (in the context of this movie’s reality at least). I’m not going to dismiss concerns of racism. That’s not my place to do. But I will say the movie is subdued in its humor in this level, electing to find humor in the absurdity of its protagonists rather than a mocking of another culture.
As for the sexism, again, hard to say. There are only two significant women in the film, and both serve as love interests (however ridiculous) for the male heroes. Both are attractive, and both are described as “honeypots”. Of course, the movie then coins the term “honeydick”, which is just when a guy tries to lure another guy in by the promise of being a really cool guy, so it’s more like a commentary on how we use our charms (whatever they might be) to get what we want in life. Furthermore, both women develop into stronger characters than might initially be expected. Lizzy Caplan’s CIA agent is clearly good at her job and clearly stuck with a couple of idiots. When the term honeypot is labeled at her, she is sure to point out how insulting it is to her and to women in general, and in a movie full of goofy, it’s a sincere moment of cultural criticism. Diana Bang’s North Korean liaison is a far goofier character (by virtue of having more interaction with Rogan and Franco). She has a goofy seduction scene with Rogan, and does some silly stuff. But I had a hard time thinking of her as merely a sexual conquest or a prop and she comes across as a genuinely likable character who manages to fit in with the absurd world they live in.
Again, not going to dismiss any criticism because I’m just one guy with one opinion, but I liked both these women and their characters. I could probably do without the implication that Franco and Caplan’s characters are together in the end because it feels tacked on, unearned. But it’s only an implication and one easily ignored.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give special mention to Randall Park as Kim Jong Un. Without a doubt, the most complicated role in this otherwise uncomplicated movie, Park has to play Kim as both likeable fanboy and crazed madman. Even when Kim is insane, Randall imbues him with a believability and those vulnerable moments never seem artificial, even as the movie plays up the notion that Kim is, by nature, a manipulative jerk. Park succeeds in somehow creating a villain who is sympathetic and menacing, and who is both laughable and dangerous all at once. I often get annoyed by how often The Joker is portrayed in fiction, but Park would make an incredible Joker based on this performance. Just saying.
So is The Interview great? No idea. Time will tell if its peculiar sense of humor is as timeless as Blazing Saddles or merely amusing as Dracula: Dead and Loving It. However, it is an amusing movie, and if you’re looking to laugh at weird jokes and clueless characters in outlandish situations, you could do a lot worse.
My final recommendation: Worth Watching.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,
P.S. And, please, folks, let’s not mistake any of this controversy for a Free Speech issue. Free Speech can only be infringed upon by the government, and the government of the U.S. never once called for this movie to be censored.