By Cody Ray Shafer
Now that the media hype cycle for The Interview is dying down, is it finally possible to take a good look at the film itself and figure out whether it was even all worth it?
Of course, there’s no good answer. The film is still breaking news with its unprecedented digital release. I suppose if we take the hackers at their word it could have been a lot worse. The ugly truth over the whole fiasco is that the film is just plain silly, hardly worthy of the cyber-terrorism escalation that it sparked, and certainly not worthy of the patriotic zeal that moved Americans to see the film in the wake of its impact. Then again, that all depends on who you ask. Some folks might feel a wholesome patriotic pride after sitting through The Interview in spite of the hateful threats of unseen supporters of fascism. Who am I to dismiss their intentions?
I watched the film on Christmas Eve, because why not, and I can honestly say it was worth the six bucks to stream legally. I’m an unashamed fan of Seth Rogen and James Franco, if only for purely sentimental reasons. I relate to their films, and their work has grown up and matured along with me.
Well, maybe “matured” isn’t the right word. But I thought This Is The End was the most hilarious film I’ve ever experienced, and I’m acutely aware of it’s horrible ridiculousness, and that’s entirely why I love it. The Interview is a perfect follow-up, if surprisingly more tame and subdued. But really, the film’s most surprising revelation is how well the characters reflect its own ideology. The Interview contained the same self-awareness as This Is The End’s meta-characters, but expanded that to include its own imperfect attempts at satire.
Franco’s character, the offensively charming Dave Skylark, is in the business of entertainment, but suddenly given an opportunity to pose a journalistic threat to North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, which is quickly hijacked by people with bigger agendas and Skylark, much like The Interview, was suddenly just another pawn—albeit a crucial one—in the geopolitical game.
Even Rogen’s character portrayed elements of the filmmakers’ awareness of the opportunity, with a self-deprecating sense that they aren’t exactly the best ones to pull it off. Rapaport is a smart and politically astute straight man trapped in an utter farce, which very well could be Rogen’s whole career. He does his best to make it the best farce possible, but he knows he’s not digging hard enough to earn the respect of his real journalist friends. Much of the intellectual criticism of The Interview kind of misses this whole thread. Rogen, through his character, is perfectly aware that they aren’t making Dr. Strangelove. But he still believes he can gut fascism by emasculating North Korea’s head of state, and I don’t think he’s wrong.
The Interview isn’t really brilliant satire. It’s not even South Park. It’s really just Bart Simpson. Not The Simpsons, but just Bart. At worst, Rogen and Franco should be writing “I will not lampoon North Korea’s Dear Leader” hundreds of times on the blackboard. The Interview is just the kid sitting at the back of the class cracking wise about the totalitarian teacher. Everyone laughs, because the kid is funny and we adore our smartasses. But once he’s asked to offer a legitimate critique of the class or education as a whole, he shuts up and goes back to doodling penises in the text-book, and we go on ignoring him until they make their next joke.
But at the very least, The Interview is an earnest attempt, even if it is aware of its own limitations. Honestly, the best joke isn’t in the film, but rather that the film exists in the first place. It doesn’t have to be brilliant to be meaningful. As long as someone is willing to risk their careers to stand up to dictators, all those platitudes about freedom and American values aren’t totally misplaced.