Does liking Katy Perry's "Firework" and margaritas make you gay? Thankfully, we have The Interview to help us ponder that question.
Most of the scrutiny surrounding the Interview's plot has been on its irresponsible depiction of the problems North Korea faces under its totalitarian state. But largely unnoticed is the blatant homophobia baked into the film's plot at every possible moment. In a desperate attempt to be an edgy and subversive satirical look at the dictatorship, the movie comes off as tactless and tasteless.
In case you've skipped the unending saga of the film, here's the premise: The Interview stars James Franco as celeb interviewer Dave Skylark and Seth Rogen as Skylark's producer Aaron Rapoport. They are two Americans tasked with assassinating North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un after Skylark lands an interview with the mysterious leader.
And here's the controversy: The movie inspired a public battle between Sony Pictures and cyberterrorists who threatened to target American theaters if they showed it. And while Sony originally canceled the movie's Dec. 25 release, it became available to stream online on Christmas Eve and played at select theaters on Christmas Day.
It's 2014. Gay marriage has been legalized in 35 states and DOMA was ruled unconstitutional. You'd think we'd be over tasteless and unnecessary gay jokes as the LGBT community achieves slow and steady progress toward equal protection under the law. But the discussion about the stakes of listening to Perry's pop-tastic music (which is about being yourself and features a guy-on-guy kiss in the music video) and drinking sweet tequila beverages is one of many instances where the film uses gay stereotypes as the basis for humor.
Within the first few minutes of The Interview, Eminem comes out of the closet during a talk with Skylark. But in real life, the rapper has continued to use homophobic slurs in his music while reassuring that he supports gay marriage.
It's not funny to mock Eminem for coming out of the closet — in fact, it makes light of a real-life struggle many people face. Even as people are coming out younger and younger, many LGBT youth still battle with accepting themselves and declaring their sexuality to their loved ones. The co-oping of this process by someone like Eminem who has used slurs as a cheap way for laughs is frustrating. Rogen's character exclaims, "This is the greatest moment in gay history!" No, pretty sure it's not.
The movie continues to make tasteless gay jokes left and right. When Skylark and Rapoport are recruited by the CIA to take out Kim, they accuse the organization of using an attractive female agent (Lizzy Caplan) to seduce them into doing their bidding. But they also suggest that the CIA had a male agent go with her just in case Rapoport was gay in order to "honeydick" him. And when Rapoport has to hide an important package in his butt, the dialogue makes nonstop allusions to anal sex.
But perhaps the most problematic use of gay subtext for laughs is the relationship between Skylark and Kim, who form a sort of bromance that treads the line of a same-sex romance. In one scene, they take a battle tank out for a test drive. When Skylark asks if they can use the gun, Kim says, "You think I'd tease you and not take you all the way?" But remember, they're just friends! The two even share a quick kiss during a party montage full of sex and booze.
"Bro-dude" movies are no strangers to male friendship. But the smart writing that went into Superbad and Knocked Up is absent in the Interview. Instead, it's like The Interview is meta-hinting at Franco's celebrity queerbaiting through his character's relationship with the dictator. Franco continues to shadily utilize his murky sexuality for attention and success.
And in the much-anticipated interview between Skylark and Kim, the duo's friendship is strained when Skylark begins to expose Kim's propaganda. Then the two break into tears and come to a closer understanding of one another with their acknowledgement that they both always pined for their fathers' approval. Is linking their homoerotic bond to their daddy issues supposed to be heartwarming?
This isn't to say that gay jokes should be banned from pop culture. When watching The Interview, it is important to consider the genre of movies that it falls under and the on-screen antics that the Rogen/Franco duo often find themselves in. But the manner in which this film jests with gayness doesn't come off as clever — just tired and cheap. And many of these actors making use of this humor don't have a license or expertise to do so.
The Interview does have some scenes worthy of snickers that don't depend on poking fun at queerness. But for the most part, many of its gay jokes are not effective. They're only effective in the sense that they'll make a 12-year-old boy who still drops the word "gay" around as a synonym for "dumb" laugh. Bros throw around gayness in an effort for some cheap farce — and they strike out. Instead of relying on buttholes and guy-on-guy action, comedians and movies should strive for smarter takes on the passé gay joke.