April 27, 2011

LIMITED RELEASE: “POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Watch It At Home:  Morgan Spurlock’s latest doc is more stunt than revelation.
If Michael Moore were a movie franchise, Morgan Spurlock would be the direct-to-video entry in the series.  Or maybe the one that adds cheesy 3D effects to squeeze out every last dollar.   Moore is, lord knows, self-aggrandizing and fond of the sound of his own voice, but agree with him or not, he’s fueled by genuine moral and political outrage.  Spurlock, who gave us Super Size Me, only seems to be trying to win a reality show competition.
Spurlock’s latest bears the unwieldly title POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS:  THE GREAT MOVIE EVER SOLD, and really that’s the whole movie in a nutshell.  Spurlock sets out to illuminate the world of  movie product placement and marketing, and just as he personally downed gargantuan amonnts of McDonald’s food in Super Size Me, here he sets out to finance this very movie by building in ads and product integrations.  We watch him meet with advertisers and gradually see as the agreed-upon product placements appear in the movie; it’s as meta as an episode of “Community,” except without the actual wit or insight.
Spurlock knows how to keep a documentary fast-paced and amusing, but are there really any sentient beings left who don’t recognize product placement when they see it?  (Spurlock is like the guy who just discovered that digitally streamed music doesn’t sound as rich as vinyl.)  If anything, we’re all so conscious of being sold, and the integrations have become so blatant, that they almost defeat the purpose–hardly anything can influence us without our being consciously aware that it’s happening.  Since there’s not much of an issue here, all Spurlock can do is load the movie with (perfectly straightforward) commercials that he had to include to get the integration money, while making the placements ludicrous enough to get a laugh.

The frustration of Greatest Movie is that there are real points that could be explored about this topic, but Spurlock just touches on them for seconds lest they slow down his show.  We get a glimpse of the restrictions and approvals that advertisers require in exchange for their cash, but then we’re assured that Spurlock didn’t agree to them.  There are interviews with Florida school board members who feel the need to push advertising on their students to make up for education budget cuts, but Spurlock is more interested in making an easy gag out of the fact that one ad is for a tattoo parlor.  A series of interviews with Hollywood directors about the effect of product integrations on their work just elicits the expected denials that it’s damaged their films at all.  Spurlock himself purports to be troubled by “selling out,” when in fact his whole movie is based on the gimmick.  (It would have been more interesting to see what, if any, placements he had to accept in order to finance Super Size Me or his FX TV series–that topic is never raised.)  
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is as disposable and superficial as the marketing it pretends to disdain.  The irony is that of all current documentarians, Morgan Spurlock is the one most in tune with the suits who are putting up the money; he’s his own product.  But ironically enough, despite the promotional dollars and tie-ins detailed in the picture, not to mention his own presence on countless talk shows, the film opened to a mediocre $6500 in each of 18 theatres last weekend.  Sometimes the audience isn’t quite as dumb as the moneymen expect them to be.
(POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS:  THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD – Sony Pictures Classics – PG 13 – 90 minutes – Director:  Morgan Spurlock – Script:  Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick – Documentary – 18 Theatres) 

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."