Directed by: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan
Premise: The host and producer (James Franco and Seth Rogan) of a tabloid television program land an interview with Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). The CIA taps the reporters to assassinate the North Korean leader.
What Works: The Interview is a mashup of political satire, action filmmaking, and sophomoric comedy. That combination shouldn’t work out but it does. Filmmakers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan had previously collaborated on Pineapple Express and This is the End and in those cases the clashing combination of elements didn’t quite work. The Interview is a far better movie than their previous efforts. It makes the tonal transitions much more smoothly, it’s better acted, and it’s been crafted with much more discipline. Seth Rogan does triple duty in this picture as co-writer, co-director, and co-star and he plays against type. Rogan’s screen persona is built upon a public image as a slacker and a stoner but in The Interview Rogan is cast as the straight man and he does this part surprisingly well. He plays a television producer who graduated from college with a degree in journalism but hitched himself to an up-and-coming television personality (James Franco) who has become the host of a popular entertainment news program. Despite their success, it’s clear that Rogan’s character wants to do more with his life. That’s critical to making this movie work; the political content gives added stakes to the story but the film’s appeal is rooted in Rogan’s character proving himself to be a competent newsman and in the rapport between Seth Rogan’s producer and James Franco’s host. In their adventures through North Korea, the pair go through a series of mishaps that usually end in a sophomoric situation. That stuff is consistently funny but it works better than usual in The Interview because it’s set against the background of a spy thriller and that makes it all the more absurd. In addition to working as a comedy and an action picture, The Interview also works as a political satire. Specifically, it satirizes the lunacy of cable news and to a lesser degree it lampoons the way in which hard journalism and tabloid media have merged. The Interview also works as well as it does due to two supporting performances. Randall Park plays Kim Jong-un and Park is able to be charming and even inspire sympathy and then become frightfully intimidating. He gives the action-oriented aspects of the film much more credibility than the film would have otherwise. Diana Bang is also notable as a North Korean media strategist. Bang’s character gradually emerges in the film and she proves to be as adept at comedy as her male costars.
What Doesn’t: A lot of press has surrounded the release of The Interview with the movie turned into a political football for all kinds of causes. The trouble is that the movie itself is not much of a political statement especially when compared to titles like Team America: World Police or The Great Dictator. Whatever The Interview has to say about the situation in North Korea is never beyond the obvious; it’s a country whose people have been victimized by decades of military dictatorship and isolationism and the political leadership of the country is a nightmare. However, The Interview was never intended to be a grand political gesture. It is, first and last, a silly comedy and as that it succeeds. But with all of the hoopla surrounding its release, viewers can’t be blamed for expecting something more from the picture. Taken on its own terms, the weakest element of The Interview is James Franco’s performance as the television personality. Franco does capture the dishonest sensationalism of entertainment and cable news but he overplays the other parts of the role.
Bottom Line: The Interview may not be the subversive political satire that some viewers have been led to believe. However, it is very funny, highly entertaining, and the filmmakers accomplish exactly what they set out to do.
Episode: #524 (January 11, 2015)