For many people, it is very hard to judge a movie properly upon its initial release following months and months of endless pre-release hype. On these terms, it is perfectly understandable why The Interview hasn’t been greeted with the warm reception a mainstream comedy of its calibre deserves. It isn’t the scathing satire of the current North Korean dictatorship that many had hoped for; it is merely another high-concept stoner comedy that we have come to expect from directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (although, it is controversially the first that has no actual weed smoking in it- which is surely what all the pre-release controversy was about, right?). Many people will be judging the film based on what they want it to be rather than what it actually is. The idea that a film where Kim Jong Un’s biggest weakness is crying uncontrollably over Katy Perry’s “Firework” could ever have been regarded by its makers as satire (or a threat to international relations) is as laughable as anything in the film itself.
James Franco stars as Dave Skylark, a celebrity chat-show host whose biggest success is perceived to be an interview with Miley Cyrus about her camel toe. His producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) is a journalism graduate from Columbia University who has seen his fellow alumni go on to produce for Sixty Minutes. He’s instead making a living looking at photos that appear to show Matthew McConaughey fucking a goat. Both desiring to be taken seriously, they find out that Skylark Tonight is the second favourite TV show of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un (after The Big Bang Theory). They arrange an interview with the leader (Randall Park), and shortly afterwards the CIA “honey pot” them into murdering the supreme leader of the world’s most secretive country. It goes without saying that their plot is the most incompetent way of taking out a dictator since the plot to kill Hitler in Inglourious Basterds, a film that appears to be the biggest influence on The Interview.
Whenever I criticise mainstream comedy movies, my friends have a tendency to either call me a “miserable, boring bastard” for not finding them funny, or accusing my tastes for being too highbrow to enjoy something that is a simple pleasure. Anybody who knows me knows that my sense of humour is far from highbrow – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to laugh at every lowbrow comedy based purely on its puerility. In a world recently plagued by Horrible Bosses 2 (“It tries too hard to be offensive and winds up being boring”, Alistair Ryder, Cinemole), the films of directors like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are welcome; they are lowbrow, tasteless, yet never offensive. If there is anything even remotely offensive in The Interview (the entire “honey-potting” subplot, the pair’s attempts to do Asian accents), it is perfectly justified due to how intelligent former Daily Show writer Dan Sterling is when it comes to addressing these issues; after all, he spent years writing jokes about international politics without falling over into offensiveness, or worse, xenophobia. The movie may not have a satirical edge that a screenplay by a former Daily Show writer would be expected to have, but it does successfully circumnavigate offensive topics that other mainstream comedies would find themselves falling into. Most importantly, it keeps the jokes flowing throughout; within the first five minutes I’d already lost track of how many times I laughed.
Whereas Rogen and Goldberg’s directorial debut This is the End turned an obvious Charlie Kaufman inspired concept into the premise for an apocalyptic stoner-romp, The Interview sees the pair take a distinctively Quentin Tarantino inspired concept and turn it into something suited distinctively to their comedic sensibilities. The Inglouious Basterds influence must not have gone unnoticed; as the film nears the end it fully commits to its premise, turning entire swathes of the movie into a giant bloodbath. Whereas the climactic scene of that movie all depended on the projection booth of a cinema, here all the action is dictated by a television edit suite – another claustrophobic space where the actions of the people within can ruin the entertainment people are enjoying outside.
As lowbrow as it is, The Interview is a late contender for funniest mainstream comedy of the year. Ignore the controversy and view it on its own terms as a brilliantly dumb comedy, where an entire dictatorship can get taken down based on a plastic grapefruit. As directors, Rogen and Goldberg have joined the (increasingly rare) ranks of genuinely good mainstream comedy film makers alongside Edgar Wright, Adam McKay and Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. The Interview may have put studios off of making movies about North Korea, but hopefully it will be an inspiration to comedy writers to make the weirdest, most high-concept movies imaginable.