“They hate us cause they ain’t us.”
In The Interview, James Franco (This is The End) plays the naive, yet endearing Dave Skylark, host of the E!-inspired talk show, Skylark Tonight. Seth Rogen (Neighbors) plays Franco’s best bro, Aaron Rapoport, the producer of their show. Rogen does an excellent job in this role and in what is only his second go-around directing with Evan Goldberg (This is The End). Dave and Aaron team up to interview The Supreme Leader of the People’s Republic of North Korea, Kim Jong-un (Randall Park, Neighbors). Park’s performance as a lonely, yet fun and lovable version of The Supreme Leader is wonderfully entertaining. And it gets even funnier when sexy, sarcastic FBI agent (Lizzy Caplan, Bachelorette) asks the two bumbling entertainers to assassinate the Supreme Leader.
Admittedly, the film is not funny 100% of the time, but it is an intelligent comedy, and that’s a rare bird in this business (There’s only one Team America: World Police with a Kim Jong-il puppet singing about the loneliness he can’t pronounce). With Team America, Trey Parker and Matt Stone created the blueprint for a successful social satire of North Korea’s military prowess. But The Interview offers a much more intellectual look at war than the South Park writers could have dreamed up. So for Franco and Rogen (#Frogen?) fans of This is The End who found Pineapple Express, well, stupid, you’re in luck. The Interview showcases their ability to craft witty repartee about real world issues.
The film presents a realistic dystopia where celebrity news and the threat of a nuclear attack get the same media coverage. And as true satire does, The Interview mocks and derides social mores for the betterment of society. By that I mean, the film is not mere parody (think Scary Movie) nor is it lampoon (think Louis C.K.). Instead of mimicking or mocking specific people in a cruel manner, Interview has created a world in which society’s rules, and war itself, is mocked. The culture that allows for nuclear weapons and threats of world war, can be funny. It can be really damn funny, which is important when joking about North Korea. Good social satire needs to be humorous. And Rogen and Franco accomplish this through fictional talk show host, Dave Skylark.
Franco’s Skylark has a charming, Stephen Colbert-like naiveté. But what’s most refreshing is that Skylark’s persona isn’t taking a shot at Fox News. Can we all just tacitly agree that Fox News is an evil industry and move on? And that’s what’s great about this character — he has moved on. He is merely a jester in the court of global threat and world dominance. Sure, it’s a movie directly lampooning Kim Jong-un for his many human rights violations and other atrocities; but The Interview is not about Kim-Jong-un. It’s about friendship, war, love, loss.
And that’s what makes it a more successful satire.
Yes, 18th century poet, Alexander Pope called his enemies out by name. But Jonathan Swift is the satirist we remember. It’s not by pointing fingers that we’re going to progress, but by learning life lessons through good old-fashioned derision. And that’s exactly what is accomplished here.
Is this movie life-changing? No — but it’s not supposed to be. It is, however, funny, smart and innovative. It’s been hated for not being funny enough, or hailed as a great parody. But to merely call it a parody is to file it away with flops like Not another Teen Movie. It’s a smart satire that offers an honest look at the way our society talks about war. Franco and Rogen erred on the side of intelligent/esoteric humor instead of dropping to the lowest common literacy rate, like they did in Pineapple. We already have movies like Ted (Seth McFarlane’s bromantic, teddy bear comedy) and they are sometimes hilarious, but considering what’s on tap for 2015 in terms of North Korea, we need smarter satire, not more mindless parody.
And that’s exactly where The Interview gets it right.
* SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ ON BEFORE SEEING FILM *
I didn’t touch on the opening of the film in order to section off this spoiler.
To me, one of the most shocking parts of the film has nothing to do with Kim Jong-un. It is the beginning–where famous rapper, Eminem comes out as gay. First Dave Skylark accuses real life satirist, Eminem (Funny People) of hating old people. Skylark assumes a role here reminiscent of early 2000’s media personas that mistook Eminem’s satire for confessional lyrics. Personas that didn’t see the lengths Eminem had gone to in labeling his work as satire. Like the fact that he created his alter ego, Slim Shady to express views that were not his own.
Saying Eminem is homophobic is akin to calling Mark Twain a racist. Need we go back to high school English literature to explain the difference between the speaker and the author? Huck Finn was written as commentary on racists as a way to mock them and ridicule their evil ways. And the same tropes are seen in Eminem’s work as he mocks those who are homophobic. Yet the early 2000’s was full of “Eminem is gay” arguments. An essay titled, “Will the Real Slim Shady Please Come Out?” even made it into my literary theory textbook in college. So does Skylark merely parody yet another clueless critic? No he doesn’t and that’s where Frogen strikes comedy gold.
What turns this joke on its head and allows for a brilliant comedic opening, is when Eminem delivers one of the most shocking lines of the movie. “I’m gay.” In his calm, serious-as-hell affect, Eminem says, “People think that my lyrics are homophobic, you know, it’s because I’m gay.” Then the rapper continues to touch on his violent lyrics as if nothing’s happened. And what makes it even funnier than the prospect of Eminem coming out of the closet on live TV, is the Seth Rogen-quality freak-out we’ve come to know and love.
Rogen’s character, Aaron, gets that clueless, “it’s the end of the world?!” look from This is The End that made for such funny scenes. It’s also a welcome change from the slew of gay jokes hurled at James Franco, for being the artistic, intellectual of the group of actors. And it foreshadows the homoerotic relationship Dave Skylark later has with Kim Jong-un. It gets even funnier when Skylark assumes he misheard only to hear the stoic rapper say, “I’m a homosexual.” And Rogen’s character, Aaron delivers, “Eminem just said he was gay. Four times! That’s what the fuck just happened!”
“I’ve pretty much just been leaving a bread crumb trail of gayness” Eminem responds calmly. And this is just one of many great cameos we see in the film.