Morgan Spurlock movies are the Fox News of documentaries. They promise to be one thing, but are really another. Just as Fox News thinks it’s a legitimate news organization, Spurlock thinks his films are legitimate documentaries. Both think they are hitting some deep rooted truths, but neither ever actually do. However, Spurlock’s films, unlike Fox News, are generally not offensive or hurtful and manage to entertain even as they fail to fulfill their promises. Much like his previous two films, Super Size Me and Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, his latest, titled POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, doesn’t say anything that anybody with half a brain doesn’t already know, but its humor and unique concept make it easy to sit through.
As the title so aptly suggests, the film is an exploration of advertising and product placement that is financed completely through advertising and product placement. It’s a gimmick, sure, but it’s a thoroughly interesting one and it works better than his previous two films where the outcome was evident before the film even began (I could have told you it wasn’t healthy to eat nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days without watching Super Size Me). This time, you never know where the film is going to go and it really becomes a game of “spot the product placement.”
In most movies and television shows, product placement is supposed to be evident enough so that it works, but not so evident that it distracts from the story at hand. In The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, the story is product placement and a hunt for it is encouraged, even required at times. It’s the “Where’s Waldo?” of product placement, if you will, and much of its appeal comes from recognizing when we’re being sold to, which means paying attention to the first block of the film.
As he gains sponsors, dozens of contracts with their own various stipulations come pouring in, demanding certain things in exchange for their money. JetBlue Airways, for instance, requires Spurlock to host an interview while in one of their airplanes. This clause is briefly mentioned early on, but the event doesn’t happen until later in the film and it produces a big laugh for those in the audience who haven’t forgotten the agreements that have been made.
Unfortunately, it’s also at this point that Spurlock begins to lose control of the movie, a fact he sourly vocalizes as he realizes just how many obligations he has to these companies. And that loss of control is felt. When the movie begins, it asks whether or not product placement really works and what affect it has on viewers, but those inquiries are barely even touched upon, much less answered. It begins to feel like Spurlock has unwittingly forced himself into a corner, restrained by the threat of lawsuits. How could he possibly make truthful and unbiased observations about advertising as these companies who have sponsored his film breath down his neck, understandably wanting their products shown in a positive light?
So as a documentary that is trying to make a point, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold fails big time, but as a humorous, somewhat cynical experiment, it hits a home run. One can’t help but laugh as Spurlock pushes products during interviews with anti-advertising advocates that are oblivious to the advertising happening right before their eyes, or when he discusses examples of egregious advertising with an interviewee while sipping a bottle of POM Wonderful’s pomegranate juice. These things, along with Spurlock’s natural charisma and likability, more than make up for the film’s lack of answers. Nevertheless, this could have been one of the best of the year had its final analysis on advertising not been so obvious. “The best I can do is tell you that it’s out there,” he tells us. Well, duh.
POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold receives 4/5