B-Team America – The Interview (2014) Review

141219_EM_InterviewI have a soft spot for thematic trilogies. The possibility that three films in a director’s filmography, when put side by side will enrich each other based on their concurrent themes, is a tantalising prospect. It’s one that invites you to revisit films you may have seen many times, and view them from a different perspective, gaining something altogether different. I don’t think I’ll gain a new perspective on The Interview years down the line, but I do see it as the third entry in an arguably very loose Rogen-Franco bromance trilogy, the first entries being Pineapple Express and This Is the End.

The difference this time is that the familiar element is dressed up as a satirical action-comedy where our two star-crossed lovers are Dave Skylark and Aaron Rapaport, the presenter and producer of a trashy talk-show, who are tasked with assassinating Kim Jong-un. As I’m sure you know, this very idea has caused Sony to be the victim of a hacking attack with the perpetrators attempting to stop the release of the film entirely. The vehemence of this response implies a film with an acerbic edge that holds nothing back in its ridicule of the North Korean leader and his dictatorship. Sadly for those of us who enjoy that kind of biting humour, there is very little of it to be found in The Interview, and one could almost wonder just what did Kim Jong-un take such offence to? Maybe he just doesn’t like Katy Perry that much.

I’m being a bit facetious but it’s hard not to be a little disappointed, what with all the hype that’s being going on in the past few months. Instead of the satire you get a crap-ton of below-the-belt jokes, most seemingly revolving around rear ends, but the crudeness is dispensed with such juvenile glee that you might find yourself giggling even though you clearly know better. The opening scenes where we’re treated to segments from Skylark Tonight set the film up nicely with fantastic straight-faced cameos from Eminem and Rob Lowe. From here the film seems to stutter, both in humour and pacing, and it’s not until the supreme leader appears that things start to pick up again.

The Interview tank

By far the best comedic performance in the film comes from Randall Park, who humanizes Kim Jong-un to hilarious effect. The film knows that it is in essence a bromance movie and puts a fun little spin on the formula as dictator and presenter spend a day shooting some hoops, driving a tank, partying with hookers and end up becoming best buds. Franco is clearly having the time of his life in these scenes, and every scene in fact, and his Skylark is a great blend of idiotic energy and sincere innocence, just right for the tone of the film. By contrast Rogen seems a bit lost, perhaps getting more comfortable behind the camera as he co-directs with Evan Goldberg. He’s needed for the bromance but comes off bland in the wake of Franco’s ample pizzazz.

By the time the eponymous interview comes, the film finds its feet again and launches into an enjoyable and surprisingly measured action finale. Without the back and forth bickering of its leads there’s a sense of purpose and the comedic moments – mostly callbacks to earlier pieces of dialogue – are much funnier delivered in this way, particularly the gruesome but still hilarious pay-off to all those Lord of the Rings references.

The Interview is good but nothing brilliant, competently made but lacking in real laughs. It’s premise promises so much but it was probably wiser to dial down expectations given the team involved. It does score points for its uniqueness though and can be enjoyed partly because of that. I mean, where else are you going to see an explosion set to the strains of Katy Perry’s Firework? Certainly not in North Korea.

Non-biodegradable Plastic – Mean Girls (2004) Review

Mean Girls posterGretchen really needn’t have worried; ‘fetch’ happened. Not necessarily in the adoption of the word into the cultural lexicon, but in the popularity of Mean Girls which has endured for just over a decade since its release. It’s widely considered amongst the best teen comedies and a cult movie in its own right, even prompting Entertainment Weekly to reunite the cast for an anniversary celebration and ask the inevitable question concerning a proper sequel. The chances of the whole creative team returning to continue the story are slim, but a re-viewing of the 2004 hit confirms that it would be a hard act to follow, even today. It is truly special, but what sets it apart in a highly populated genre?

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan in arguably her most famous role) provides our perspective as she starts in the intimidating world of North Shore High School. From a normal background of being home-schooled by her zoologist parents, she is kind, well-meaning, and completely unprepared for the potentially poisonous nature of other adolescents, and North Shore is teeming with them. The school is a society of cliques and unspoken rules dominated by a gaggle of girls known as ‘The Plastics’ – walking Barbie dolls of privilege and materialism. They’ve seemingly ruined the lives of many girls on campus including Cady’s new friend Janis (Lizzy Caplan) who enlists her to help bring alpha Plastic, Regina George (Rachel McAdams) down a peg or ten.

The source material – Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman – is no fiction novel but instead a self-help book written for parents wishing to guide their young daughters through the teenage minefield. The film takes a much more exaggerated and wry view of events common to most high-schoolers but the authentic basis enriches the satirical comedy that follows. Tina Fey combines her own memories with the wit she brought to Saturday Night Live to produce a script full of quotable lines – “You go, Glen Coco!” – but more importantly, populated by characters encompassing the great variety of stereotypical teens.

Mean Girls mall

That sounds like damning criticism but the characters are not one-note caricatures, at least not the main cast. They bring subtle nuances and great conviction to their performances that would be expected of seasoned comedic actors. The standout is arguable Lacey Chabert as downtrodden second-in-command Gretchen Wieners whose visible distress at the breakdown of the established social order reaches a hilarious pinnacle with her outburst of repressed anger against a domineering ‘Caesar’. It’s not just the main cast who are on song, even the lesser characters hit their marks – who can forget mathlete and self-styled badass M.C. Kevin G? Mean Girls is a true out-and-out comedy written with wit and visual gags to spare. You’ll likely be laughing before the opening credits have finished.

In the midst of this, Fey (perhaps intentionally in character) uses the build up of good humour to say something important to the assembled teenage girls, both onscreen and in the audience. While her message of positive feminism – encompassing the dangers of sacrificing identity and harmful degradation of girls by other girls – might appear incongruous with the film’s mocking tone, it’s the sincerity in Fey’s words along with the real-life basis that make them ring true, even if they might not linger as long in the mind as, “Nice wig, Janis…”

The aesthetic of Mean Girls feels very much rooted in early noughties culture, and phrases like “regulation hottie” keep it there, but they never bring it down. Likewise the story wraps up in predictable tried-and-true style with a somewhat clich├ęd end-of-year dance and a lot of optimism doled out by Lohan’s narration. At first glance it’s too sugar-coated to fit with the rest of the film, where we’ve been entertained by laughing at the ridiculous events, but seen again it’s a fitting end for a film that treats its characters with so much warmth no matter how bitchy they were in the process.