Tag Archives: comedy

The Interview (2014)

Relax, North Korea. You Have Nothing to Worry About

James Franco and Seth Rogen synchronize their watches in The Interview (image: www.neowin.com)

James Franco and Seth Rogen synchronize their watches in The Interview (image: http://www.neowin.com)

My second choice for a tag line? “And the Wheels of the Hype Machine Go ‘Round and ‘Round.”

And man, did it need it. Five months ago, The Interview was set to be a minor October release. A blip on the edge of Oscar prestige season. But then North Korea threatened “merciless” action, Sony delayed the release until Christmas and after a terrorist threat from the “Guardians of Peace”, the studio pulled the film altogether.

The media got their panties in a bunch, free speech advocates lost their mind and as of last week, The Interview has earned $31 million via online distribution. The Seth Rogen / James Franco movie that nobody saw coming became a hit.

Despite my cynicism over the threats, the leaks and the eventual online release (it all seems pretty choreographed to me), I can see why a North Korean dictator would be miffed. Imagine if Kim Jong-un was swapped with President Obama. People in US would be equally outraged.

The good news is, nobody has anything to worry about. The Interview is nothing but a competently made bro-mance wrapped in a controversial political blanket. No threats to the status quo, no potential revolution. Sophomoric yet funnier than not, The Interview is a fun time at the theaters and nothing more than that.

James Franco plays Dave Skylark, host of the celebrity gossip talk show Skylark Tonight. Stuck in the world of entertainment journalism, Dave and longtime producer Aaron (Seth Rogen) finally get a big break: Kim Jong-un is a fan and wants to be on the show. But when the CIA learns about the big interview, they contract the pair to assassinate the controversial dictator.

Dave and Kim enjoy a big old bro hug, (image: www.latimes.com)

Dave and Kim enjoy a big old bro hug, (image: http://www.latimes.com)

The ludicrous setup is completely sold by the work of Franco and Rogen. If you’ve seen This Is the End, you know exactly what to expect. Two guys messing around in front of the cameras. The effect is oddly infectious. It’s clear the two had a blast making this movie which allows us to share in the good times. Despite some eye rolling catch phrases and profanity for the hell of it, The Interview works because of the story’s pure energy.

While the humor itself is juvenile, the jokes work more often than not. For every painfully unfunny scene such as Rogen sneaking around the dark, there’s one that really works. The film really takes off when Franco becomes pals with the North Korean dictator. From shooting hoops to driving tanks, their relationship quickly drowns out the one that’s supposed to matter. I’ll never hear Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” the same way again.

A healthy helping of celebrity guest appearances, including Eminem, Brian Williams and a fantastic Rob Lowe, pepper the movie with fun moments. The surrounding cast runs from meh (Lizzy Caplan as a boring CIA agent) to fantastically funny (Randall Park as Kim Jong-un) and the underlying story, while ridiculous, works just enough to keep the comedy afloat.

In the end, my analysis is a simple one. The Interview made me laugh more than it made me groan. I’d put it at a 70/30 split. Through all the haze and hype, it’s always enjoyable to watch people have fun making movies. Brash, loud and sometimes stupid, The Interview still succeeds where most modern comedies fail. Good times with actors that would probably be a blast to hang out with. Just don’t expect the controversial firestorm Sony made it out to be. Viral marketing indeed.

Score – 7 out of 10

Obvious Child (2014)

Too Good, Too Smart for an “Obvious” Pun

Jenny Slate brings buckets of likeability, pathos and gut busting comedy as the lead in Obvious Child. (image: menshealth.com.uk)

Earlier this year, I reviewed Bad Words, a crude, ugly and painfully unfunny movie about a fourty-something genius who attacks a spelling bee. My review was less than kind, so negative that I had to explain how much I enjoy offensive humor. Growing up, my comedy icons were Jim Norton, Louie CK and Opie and Anthony. While I feel challenging the status quo through off color humor is socially important, when it’s done for no reason, the value gets lost. Luckily, one film this year did it right. Obvious Child, the debut feature film from Gillian Robespierre, handles a touchy, uncomfortable topic with wit, humor and a scene stealing performance from SNL alum Jenny Slate.

Slate plays Donna Stern, a struggling comedienne eking out a career in the Brooklyn stand up scene. After a nightmare Valentine’s Day where her boyfriend dumps her for a Barbie doll and her job goes down the tubes, Stern has herself a drunken tryst with Max (Jake Lacy). What starts as wonderful, one night distraction becomes serious when she discovers she’s pregnant with Max’s baby. Hell bent on going through with an abortion, Donna learns a lesson about determination and following one’s heart through the strength and support of the people around her.

In the role of Donna, Jenny Slate channels a young Tina Fey in her delivery and comic timing. On stage, she’s brilliantly funny, delivering set after set of filthy yet refreshingly honest humor. Even when she’s bombing, she’s still joy to watch. When she’s not making people laugh, Slate delivers an honest portrayal of an artist in her late twenties making her way in the big city. From slinging jokes to connecting with her mother (Nancy Stern) and hanging with her Brooklyn friends, Slate turns in a performance on par with the Kristen Wiggs and Amy Pohlers of the comedy acting world.

Jenna Slate shares a scene (and a box) with her good-hearted boy toy, Max (Jake Lacy). (image: kickstarter.com)

In directing her first feature film, director Gillian Robespierre provides Slate with a stage full of New York authenticity. Modern day Brooklyn is alive with culture and Robespierre draws deep from that well to create an honest look into the real world of New York show business, almost to a fault. As somebody who recently moved from NYC to Austin, I instantly connected with the region specific cast but non native viewers may find it difficult to relate to. People who still use the term “hipster” as a negative may gag at Donna’s circle of artsy friends, but Slate’s grounded performance balances out any moments of being too cool for the room.

The story itself has been a source of controversy and while the idea of a woman actively choosing a controlled abortion may be upsetting to some people, the manner in which she does it bursts with realism. Every scene of Donna being disinterested and clinical around her friends is balanced with emotional moments. The subject of her choice isn’t nearly as interesting as her reactions to it, which gives a potentially off putting storyline meat and value.

The script itself is solid enough and despite some filler, manages to skirt romantic comedy conventions with new and original ideas. While moments like an after show hang out with friends feel more like sketches than story progression, the focus is on always on character development, which gives Slate more than enough material to work her magic.

Cringe comedy only works when there’s a craft behind it and unlike Jason Batemans early year stinker, Obvious Child provides a strong character driven story to compliment the laughter. By delving into the uncomfortable topic of a young woman compelled to do what her heart tells her, in both her career and personal life, Gillian Robespierre asks difficult questions and gets honest answers. Built on the back of an outstanding performance by Jenny Slate and guided by a script brimming with integrity and authenticity, Obvious Child is a shining example of what summer rom coms ought to be.

Score: 8.5 out of 10