The importance of The Interview was never dependent on the quality of the film. From the moment Sony decided to pull it from theaters, this whole thing became about more than just how good or bad the movie was; especially considering it was looking like we might never actually get to see it. Fortunately for us, Sony reversed their decision and we do. And you should, for America and freedom and all that jazz. So yeah, it’s an important movie, but is it any good?
Short answer: Kinda?
As I think everyone in the world knows by now, The Interview is about an assassination attempt on the leader of North Korea, Kim Jung Un. James Franco and Seth Rogen play Dave Skylark, a famous tabloid show host and his producer Aaron Rapoport. After 1000 episodes Aaron is tired of the joke reputation the show has rightfully garnered and wants to start doing some real news. When Skylark learns that the North Korea dictator is a fan of his show, their path to relevance becomes clear: a one on one interview with Kim. Once the interview is secured, the CIA enlists the help of the two men to assassinate the leader and we’re on our way.
This first act of the movie is easily the weakest part. I usually enjoy James Franco, but I found his character more annoying than funny at the start of the film. As in previous movies, Rogen and Franco have great chemistry and some of the funniest moments in the film are the two of them bantering back and forth, but Franco’s performance itself is, more often than not, bracingly unfunny. It’s a bizarre stylistic choice that could have easily tanked the movie. Seth Rogen continues to be the guy that isn’t really acting; just being himself saying funny things. It’s hard to fault him for this as it works really well, but a movie with just these two stars (as we’re asked to endure in the first act) would have been tough to sit through. Fortunately, once the duo get to North Korea things pick up. We’re introduced to the best performance in the film: Randall Park as Kim Jung Un.
I had only seen Randall as presidential candidate Danny Chung on HBO’s Veep. He was good, but I didn’t really know what to expect of him in a movie like this. Turns out, Park is incredible. He steals every scene he’s in (no small feat with Franco and Rogen on the other side of the frame) and is almost unrecognizable in full costume. Kim has a lot of heart and is a deeply complicated character. He’s a guy that loves to play basketball, listen to Katy Perry, get wasted, and party. Ok yes, he’s also an evil dictator who starves his people and wants to destroy America, but…he’s layered! He’s got serious issues related to both the (accurate) public perception and the pressure put on him by his father. Randall Park makes you believe all of the different sides of Kim and his chemistry with Franco feels so effortless. This performance is great and absolutely necessary for the movie to work. I’m glad The Interview ended up getting released, if just so people will get to see how much Randall Park killed it.
The Interview is more than just a bunch of poop jokes though. It still has those…and they’re hilarious, but it also intermixes that humor with some pretty poignant and biting political satire. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are smart guys and they know exactly what they’re doing. The Interview fixes its cross hairs firmly on North Korea; there is a reason the country did not like this movie. It makes a point to bring light on the truths behind the country: that the image it shares with the world is faked, that it’s people are starving while it spends millions a year on nuclear weapon testing, and that it’s leader holds himself up as a god.
All of these things are true, and it works them into the movie in ways that are both serious criticism, but also pretty funny. The movie doesn’t just pick on North Korea though. It also satirizes a (pretty accurate) United States policy of problem solving through assassination and as a mass media machine that proliferates a false view of the North Korean state. They pull heavily from Dennis Rodman’s accounts of his time in the country which were blasted on every news channel around the world. This is a movie that is systematically destroying the false image North Korea creates of itself and it’s leader while at the same time cracking jokes about the existence of Kim’s asshole. I think the film succeeds in pulling off the balance between the two.
The Interview is a pretty good movie. It’s got funny moments throughout with some good performances and an interesting story line that raises some light on the very serious issues surrounding the country. But it suffers from a slow first act and some interestingly bad performance choices by James Franco. If not for the controversy I doubt anyone would be talking about this movie a year from now. But now, as the US follows through on its promise to retaliate the Sony hack with economic sanctions and North Korea once again condemns America and the movie, The Interview is a film that will not only be talked about for years to come, but will be read about in history books. See, movies do matter.