POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Sony Picture Classics, PG-13)

In fact, it seems weird when in later parts of the movie someone is driving something that’s not a Mini Cooper or drinking something that’s not pomegranate juice.

 

There’s a long history of documentaries that sound boring on paper but are funny or interesting or informative in practice. That’s the fun of a good documentary; they can make you care about something you otherwise never would have remotely cared about. Think the coal miner’s strike in 1970s Kentucky in Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, U.S.A. or door-to-door bible salesmen circa the mid- to late-1960s in the Maysles brothers’ Salesman. The new Morgan Spurlock film, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is nowhere near as good as those abovementioned films, but it is successful on the “sounds boring, is interesting” front. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is very entertaining, but boy does it sound boring and/or irritating on paper.

The conceit is that The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a documentary about product placement in movies (i.e. those stealth advertisements in movies that you generally don’t even recognize as ads when you see them) that is entirely funded by product placement, which gets more and more conspicuous as the film goes along. The bulk of the film’s svelte 90-minute running time is Spurlock trying to win over potential advertisers, which he occasionally breaks up with examples from other movies or TV shows or to interview the occasional talking head (including a particularly interesting Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky, the latter of whom seems to pop up in about 50% of documentaries these days).

While Spurlock makes a big deal in the movie that this movie could have never been made without its advertisers (which is true), it most certainly couldn’t have been made without Spurlock himself; he is, of course, the real key component here. He’s charismatic and entertaining enough to hold the screen for the whole documentary, he has the clout after the extremely successful Super Size Me, and he’s a great salesman—watching him pitch to potential advertisers is a joy, and you can see why they take the bait.

He does right by his advertisers, too; I left the theatre wanting to try POM Wonderful again (which I’d had once years ago and didn’t much care for), and had a newfound respect for Ban deodorant, Mini Coopers, and many other advertisers in the film. In fact, it seems weird when in later parts of the movie someone is driving something that’s not a Mini Cooper or drinking something that’s not pomegranate juice. That is to say, while he has plenty of opportunities he never really makes fun of his advertisers. Nor does he his interviewees, though many of them come off as dumb on their own (Brett Ratner, director of numerous terrible Hollywood movies, on product placement: “Artistic integrity . . . whatever!”). Makes one wish Bill Hicks were still alive to be interviewed for this film, or better yet, conduct the interviews in this film.

In the end, despite being thoroughly entertaining, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold feels kind of slight—it’s almost too meta for its own good—but realistically I bet it will be taught in just as many classes as Super Size Me has been in the past five or six years, if only because it’s such an obvious fit for an entry-level advertising or mass media class. | Pete Timmermann

 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply