I am a strong supporter of James Franco. I love his work ethic, I like his weird taste, and I appreciate the way he doesn’t take himself terribly seriously. He’s spending his fame doing what he wants, and what he wants is everything from art to going to school to making small movies based on great works of literature. That’s so cool. I’m totally Team James Franco.
That comes as a way of softening this blow: I think every comedic choice James Franco makes in The Interview is wrong and that it comes very close to torpedoing what is otherwise a very good movie. The Interview manages to sustain itself despite his schticky, super broad performance because the script is so tight and the chemistry between Franco and Rogen is so natural. Oh, and because of Randall Park, the absolute star of this movie.
You know the set-up: Franco is a shallow celebrity interviewer and Rogen is his producer, and it turns out North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is a huge fan of their show. They manage to secure an interview with the reclusive despot and along the way the CIA recruits them to take him down. What you maybe didn’t know is that the movie is much smarter than it looks, and that two of the best and most integral performances come from Asian actors - the aforementioned Park and Diana Bang as Kim Jong Un’s Minister of Information, Sook.
It’s when those two actors enter the film that The Interview really takes off. The first fifteen or twenty minutes, with Franco and Rogen in New York, are a little plodding, with a large number of jokes that just don’t land. But once the duo get to North Korea The Interview adjusts and everything gets noticeably funnier. If directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg had been able to tighten up that intro they would have had a very different movie on their hands.
Randall Park steals the film by giving Kim Jong Un actual layers of humanity; yes, he’s ultimately a crazy dictator, but he’s a crazy dictator with a lot going on. He’s vulnerable and sweet - he’s even kind of cute in the way he idolizes Franco’s Dave Skylark - and Park gives him an affability that makes you actually root for the tubby tyrant. Whether he's trash talking while playing basketball or singing Katy Perry, Park's Un is a guy you would want to hang out with. And that works within the story as Skylark begins to doubt his mission the more he gets to know the man underneath the terrible haircut.
Park, it should be noted, is almost unrecognizable in the role. You may know him as Danny Chung, war hero presidential candidate from Veep, and that character could not be farther from Kim Jong Un. The transformation is so good, so complete, that I wonder how many people will even know who Park is after they see this movie. Hopefully everybody does, because this is a major performance, a true statement of absolute excellence. Without Park The Interview simply would not work.
Diana Bang, meanwhile, starts the film as a Dragon Lady stereotype, but the film has more on its mind than that. Sook eventually reveals a full humanity that ends up giving the average North Korean a voice in a movie that probably didn’t need to consider them at all as long as the jokes were good. Bang is a relative newcomer and her transition through the course of the movie is a welcome surprise. What's more, she gets a few chances to be actually funny, something all too uncommon in guy-oriented studio comedies.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg follow up the action comedy of This Is The End - one of my top ten movies of last year - with even more action in The Interview. This film is shockingly bloody, but always in a way that’s hilarious, and it ends in a tank versus helicopter showdown that wouldn’t be out of place in a $140 million action movie. But what Rogen and Goldberg do best is sneak heart into their raunchy comedies, and The Interview is a movie as concerned with the emotional life of its characters as it is with poop jokes (and it’s really got a lot of poop jokes).
Rogen may have come from the Judd Apatow School For Gifted Comedians, but as a filmmaker he doesn’t subscribe to Apatow’s shaggy style. If anything, Rogen and Goldberg seem closer to Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, and the script for The Interview (written by Dan Sterling, story by Sterling with Rogen and Goldberg) is commendably tight. Dumb throwaway lines from early in the movie end up getting wrapped up snugly in the end, and there is no plot action that is irrelevant or only there to feed a gag. Everything is moving either the story or the emotions. There may have been improv on set, but the structure of this film is superbly constructed.
Which is why I’m so bummed about Franco. Rogen is great in a very modern Seth Rogen role (Neighbors Phase, basically), but I simply don’t understand why his producer character is friends with Franco’s Skylark. The chemistry between the real friends is there (I suspect that Rogen and Franco will make a whole cycle of films about how much they love each other), but Skylark is such a shrill dope that I couldn’t buy the cinematic relationship.
The Interview doesn’t reach the heights of This Is The End (which I’ve begun to suspect is a modern masterpiece), but if you can make it through the first fifteen minutes you’ll be rewarded with a movie that’s very funny, emotionally deep and has more, perhaps, to say about American interventionism than it does about the real Kim Jong Un.