Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Interview: Funny and Audacious, or in Bad Taste?

 We saw “The Interview” the first night it was out. It was a full house. We had to use Fandango, which until then I thought was the most useless company in the world...

My purpose today is not to summarize the movie for you, but to discuss the REACTION to it.

I liked the film a lot. I found it extremely funny and politically relevant. So sue me for bad taste.

By now most people know what it’s about: two American tabloid-TV show hosts are hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s baby-faced supreme leader Kim Jong-un. The two men - played by James Franco and Seth Rogen - are bumbling buffoons. I already knew that Rogen is funny, but I was surprised by how funny James Franco can be.

Equally familiar to millions of people by now is the political brouhaha surrounding “The Interview:” Most people know that “somebody” hacked Sony Pictures’ computer systems, presumably backed by “North Korea,” which had threatened revenge if Sony released the film. At first, Sony caved in. Many of us were outraged that a third-rate dictatorship was able to force “America” to self-censor our first amendment. Even President Obama jumped into the fray (“I think Sony made a mistake”). Then, Sony went into reverse and released “The Interview” to a select 330 theaters, plus a variety of Internet platforms. Good. So now that we can see this controversial picture, how is it being received?

As far as the audience is concerned, the film is wildly popular. Ticket sales are record-breaking. Theaters are sold out everywhere. I’m sure that many simple-minded conspiracy buffs have already conjectured that it is not North Korea, but SONY, which is behind this whole hacking plot, in an effort to maximize $$$$. Bah.

Where we saw the movie, the vast majority of the audience was young - Millennials and the like. And they lapped it up. There was roaring laughter from start to finish, and applause at the end.

I asked half a dozen people sitting around me in the theater: Why are you here?
Some  of the answers:
“I heard it was a funny movie.”
“I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.” (a Korean American girl)

Answers which were notably ABSENT were statements like: “I came in order to prove to those North Koreans that America is a free country, and that no commie dictator is going to tell me what movies I can or cannot see!” In other words: I did NOT detect political motives, petulance, jingoistic flag waving.

As Allen Johnson writes in the San Francisco Chronicle (December 25), this is an over-the-top and audacious movie. He and many other professional film critics give it a reasonably positive rating - three stars out of four. The website IMDb (Internet Movie Database) gives it a score of 8.3 out of 10 so far, which is quite high. On the other hand, the website Rotten Tomatoes gives “The Interview” a mediocre 50% rating, and many of the user reviews on IMDb are scathing.

Perhaps the key descriptor here is: Polarizing. Negative reviews focus on bad taste: Jokes about erections, genitals that smell like guacamole, devices which must be inserted into the rectum, etc. An “abomination!” exclaims a reviewer. Also, many reviewers find the movie stupid and not funny.

On the positive side, the main descriptor is: Funny.

I agree. It seems to me that the key is the nature of the audience. If you are an older, conservative person with political expectations, this movie will probably disappoint you.

But I respectfully side with the positives. To me, the first twenty minutes of the movie are the funniest. It begins with a choir of little North Korean girls singing an absurd “death to America” chant. Then there is an interview with Eminem who reveals on national television that he is gay. The reaction by the talk show host (Franco) and the rest of the studio is very funny. And there are many other hilarious moments in this caper.

The good news is that so many of us are able to go see and enjoy this film. No panic. The hackers, whoever they are, lose. The panic-mongering media lose. Young Americans are still able to have fun and to laugh at bs. True, there were some armed security guards at the theater, which was somewhat unusual, but this was not too invasive. All in all, fun was had by everyone.

And as to Kim Jong-un and company: Chill. It’s just a movie. Sure, it repeats the familiar litany - the North Koreans are oppressed and starving, the dictatorship spends its scarce resources on nukes, etc. But many of the North Koreans in the movie are shown as simpatico, even Kim himself is a pretty great guy (until his true self surfaces), and at the end there is the hope for democracy and all that. Who knows, this movie may even help accomplish some sort of thaw. Or am I delusional?

© Tom Kando 2014

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