Possibly you’ve already struck a blow for freedom by watching a streamed – illegal or otherwise – version of The Interview. Maybe you even ventured out to the frontline to catch the only Montreal screening at Dollar Cinema. In which case, we salute your courage and indefatigability, we of the second wave who’ve opted for the relative safety of renting the newly-released DVD (“Freedom Edition!”)
So, now that all the fuss seems to have fizzled out like a North Korean ballistic missile, only one question remains: was it all worth it? Damn right: no jumped-up despot was ever going to tell us how much ketchup to put on our freedom fries. Yes, but does any of it actually work as a funny movie? Hmm…
It’s been pointed out by those other Kim Jong-baiters, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, that “freedom isn’t free”, and The Interview certainly demands some heavy sacrifices from the viewer. The first casualty is any sense of good taste or decency as you’re spattered with a full range of bukkake jokes and anal insertion sightgags. Then there’s the uncomfortable chirp of crickets that accompanies routines stretched way beyond their effectiveness. Most harrowing are the stress positions you find yourselves forced into (curled toes, awkward grimace, etc) during some of James Franco’s more desperate mugging.
And yet for all the scatalogical predictability and leaden touch of much of the humour, the film somehow keeps landing jabs and punchlines through even the stoutest defence shield.
Things start off particularly well, with Eminem casually outing himself on live television while the host, Dave Skylark (Franco) of Skylark Tonight, struggles to contain his giddiness at having landed such a scoop. His producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen), though just as delighted, is harbouring yearnings for bigger, more weighty things. And so a bigger and more weighty thing comes along in the shape of Kim Jong-un who, it turns out, is a big fan of Skylark’s particular brand of vacuous showbiz fluff.
The now-famous assassination plot that follows is part Hope and Crosby road movie, part Spongebob and Patrick caper, though with even more homoerotic subtext (which Franco, as if discovering that homosexuality is the new party drug of champions, enjoys turning into supertext).
That a world power, no matter how dysfunctional, almost threw its nukes out of the playpen over such silliness is, of course, the funniest thing about the film, far funnier than anything in the script. But with a first-rate situationist joke like that, the script hardly had to bother, and it hardly does. Most of it consists of sketches and laxly supervised improvisation routines. Evan Goldberg, who co-directs with Rogen, presided over the similarly loose-limbed This is the End and the results here are even more hit-and-miss.
Most of the laughs, inevitably, come from Kim Jong-un (wonderfully played by Randall Park), and screenwriter Dan Sterling is clearly having the most fun with this character. Leaving aside the concentration camps, famines, torture and summary executions, Kim is just a bashful, kinda sweet, misunderstood boy-next-door who just wants to party and listen to Katy Perry. Or so it seems. Part of the occasional smartness of Sterling’s script is the way it plays with notions of media and state manipulation, and how pathetically desperate we are to be seduced by it (or “honey-dicked”, as Skylark puts it).
So yes, there are enough laughs along the road to Pyongyang to make the whole bizarre episode worth the trouble. That and the thought of the real Kim Jong-un putting on his big-boy pants to shake his chubby little fist at a Seth Rogen-James Franco stoner comedy.
Yet surely Kim gets the last laugh after all. While he has his ghastly mass rallies of coerced community spirit, we end up being panicked out of the cinema, permitted only to laugh in the face of the Dear Leader behind closed doors. As incredible as it seems, The Interview’s biggest achievement turns out to be that it brought a little taste of North Korean repressiveness to our own shores.
The Interview is currently available on DVD.
Jim Burke is a playwright and arts journalist originally from England, now resident in Montreal. Among his plays are Cornered and an adaptation of Moby Dick. He has written plays for BBC radio. In England, he was Theatre Editor for the arts and lifestyle magazine City Life. Jim currently teaches creative writing at Dawson College’s Centre For Training and Development.