The Interview is a silly movie. Had the cyberterrorists who attacked Sony let the movie simply been released, it would have went by quietly—an amusing, R-rated comedy option this holiday season among Oscar-hopefuls and broad family fare. The film can certainly be construed to something larger than it is, and it certainly will be, not by its own virtues, but because of the historic events surrounding it. On its own merits, the movie is very funny and largely inoffensive based on how casually it treats its target (although that casualness—the refusal to give a dictator and by proxy his horrible crimes their due contemplation—will likely offend some). Directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg haven’t made a biting satire, and it’s clear they didn’t intend to. They made a movie where characters talk about “stank-dick” and needing to get an interview with a goat Matthew McConaughey may or may not have fucked, and that’s okay (for the movie; if McConaughey actually fucked a goat, that would warrant a longer conversation).
Dave Skylark (James Franco) is the cheerful host of the celebrity talk show Skylark Tonight. His producer Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) has a journalism background, and while he likes Dave, he wishes they could do hard interviews instead of talking about “Nicki Minaj’s vagina falling out at the Grammys.” Aaron gets his wish when Dave learns that Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of the show. Aaron sets up an interview with Kim, and while he and Dave are excited for the opportunity, their enthusiasm is dampened when the CIA tasks them with assassinating the North Korean dictator even though they’re clearly not the best men for the job.
Dave and (to a lesser extent) Aaron are buffoons. They’re childish, compare each other to Frodo and Sam from Lord of the Rings, and celebrate landing the interview with Kim by getting blasted on ecstasy. A central irony of The Interview is that Skylark Tonight is depicted as entertainment fluff where a celebrity can play with a bunch of puppies, and yet the movie completely follows suit. Dave is more concerned with whether or not Kim poops than how he treats his people. North Korea is already a darkly absurd nation, and The Interview removes the darkness from the equation so that we can laugh about Dave and Aaron’s foolishness. They’re not out to save the world, and neither is The Interview.
Yes, the filmmakers could have made a movie where the characters go to a fictional dictatorship to interview “Jim Kong-un”, and maybe then maybe this film’s existence would have been “okay”, but that’s just watering down a joke, at which point you probably shouldn’t tell it all. Rogen, Goldberg, and screenwriter Dan Sterling understand that you can disrespect a figure while still respecting the gravity of his actions. Adolf Hitler is casually invoked in the 21st century for humor and ad hominem attacks, but Holocaust jokes tend to be frowned upon. The film doesn’t make light of concentration camps or starvation, although it doesn’t show them either. They’re background reminders that Kim—the real Kim—is a bad guy who deserves to be lampooned rather than given a respectful dressing down. This isn’t Voldemort, and you don’t need to be scared to say his name, and you certainly don’t need to be afraid of showing his fat, doughy butt.
Rather than making a statement, the filmmakers are more concerned with providing crude, juvenile jokes, and if you’re up for that kind of humor, you’re absolutely going to get it. The trailers are not misleading, and I’m glad because I thought the trailers were hilarious. Granted, some of the best jokes are in them, and the film isn’t all gems (jokes based on white characters doing Asian accents are still weak even if they characters are clearly meant to be depicted as morons, not role models). But the shenanigans in the film are mostly funny even if the overall picture lacks the energy and staying power of Rogen and Goldberg’s previous directorial effort, This Is the End.
Watching The Interview isn’t an act of patriotism just because North Korea didn’t want us to see it (and looking at how ridiculous the film is, they probably didn’t see it either). The movie is pure entertainment, something we get plenty of in this country, which helps distract us from the fact that the world is terrible place where a nation can jail 2.5 million people, have 22% of its children live below the poverty line, and send heavily militarized police through suburban streets, firing tear gas into crowds. We know these things and far worse happen all the time and that we should pay more attention and try to change them. But if we spend two hours watching a comedy where Seth Rogen jams a giant cylinder up his ass, it’s not the worst thing in the world.