So I saw The Interview. Not because I really wanted to. My partner did and I felt like, what the heck? I stood behind its release because I believe it’s important to take an active position against censorship. When someone refers to the NSA’s 1984 surveillance tactics and says, “What do I care? I don’t have anything to hide,” that’s not the point. It’s unconstitutional and an infringement on your rights. To comply, for whatever reason, is to consent to that violation. Ditto The Interview. Do I think that making a comedy about killing a world leader, especially a world leader of a country known as volatilely isolationist as North Korea, was a great idea? Not really. Do I think that Seth Rogen and James Franco were the two best candidates to tactfully and smartly handle the job? Definitely not. But are they allowed to do it? Yes, and the fact that Sony nearly pulled the film entirely due to controversy, is deeply unsettling for the future of art.
One of the many reasons I really dragged my heels on watching it, was the fact that making a movie about North Korea (any movie), has to rely on so many cultural assumptions due to how little we know about what’s happening there. As if our general handling of race and culture in our own country isn’t reduced to stereotypes enough, the field day screenplay writer Dan Sterling could have, was uncomfortable to say the least. And shy away he didn’t. Dave Skylark (James Franco) and Aaron Rappaport (Seth Rogen) frequently utilize racist imitations of generic Asian accents. And even if their characters are supposed to be idiots, it’s at best unfunny, and at worse, alienating and offensive.
This quality in their characters is particularly resonant in Franco’s Skylark who is truly one of the most unlikeable protagonists (?) in these kind of buddy comedies. By mid-movie I was hoping for some kind of twist where he just dies randomly. But don’t worry, Sterling doesn’t stop with Skylark. He really outdoes himself with offending everyone outside of white males. Every female put on screen, is shot beginning with their legs and/or boobs. Even as Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) of the CIA points out their sexism, it holds no water; she still becomes a walking stereotype. And then the last 20 minutes of the movie become an all-out-action movie with explosions galore, masterfully highlighting how just, out of ideas they were.
I say this all as someone who enjoyed Pineapple Express. As someone who looks at Rogen and Franco fondly from the days of Freaks and Geeks. As someone who thinks that good comedy pushes our comfort. And wow, just what a cataclysmic misstep. From bad idea to viscerally offensive execution, this was just an all-out-bummer. Hopefully next time, the movie that makes us question our censorship policies will be worth the hassle.