New York City, considered by many to be the greatest city in the world also has some of the most iconic landmarks in the world, from Central Park to the Empire State Building, yet a tourist trip to the Big Apple isn’t complete without traveling to Times Square and basking in the glow of neon signs for Coca Cola and Bank of America. Every year hundreds of millions of people gather together in their homes to watch the Super Bowl, not just to see a good game of football, but to watch commercials. The average drive-time commute is littered with billboards standing tall on the side of the road selling lingerie and beer. Every other part of our world is dominated by advertisement, so why would the film industry be any different?
While some are a little more subtle about it than others, product placement has become a major part of the entertainment industry, whether it be the use of Chevrolet cars and trucks in Michael Bay’s Transformers or the McDonalds dance sequence in Mac and Me. If it were up to most movie studios there wouldn’t be a minute in any movie that wasn’t incentivized in some way. Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock has realized their dream with Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
The mission is simple: create “the Iron Man of documentaries” by using funding provided solely through advertisers. The catch is that the documentary features about Spurlock going from company to company in order to find those willing to put money towards the film. Both a look at the filmmaking process and an analysis of how marketing and publicizing has invaded every aspect of our world, the result is both fascinating and hilarious, all while convincing you to go out and buy 100 bottles of pomegranate juice.
Just like Spurlock’s 2004 debut, Super Size Me, the film’s greatest asset is its humor. Immensely likeable, business meetings and proposals would be boring in the hands of another filmmaker, but Spurlock almost always manages to keep the energy up and the audience invested. Scenes in which he sits in a bathtub with a Shetland pony and pitches commercial ideas to executives are gut-busting, all while embracing the insanity of the scheme.
But where the comedy is certainly a crowd pleaser, the brilliance of Greatest Movie Ever Sold lies in its levels of meta. While pitching the idea to potential sponsors, Spurlock mentions that he will conduct interviews at specific locations, such as on a JetBlue airplane or a Sheetz gas station, and then we see him live up to his promise a few scenes later. He mentions that there will be three commercials interlaced throughout the film for the top three sponsors and then Spurlock spends a 30-second spot getting comfortable in a Hyatt Hotel and selling the audience on all of the chain’s amenities. Trusting the audience, the movie is never overt and relies on the “a ha!” moment, which is endlessly satisfying.
More than a movie about making a movie, Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is also an absorbing look at how advertisements affect our culture. Venturing outside of the box, Spurlock takes a trip to São Paulo, Brazil, a city that has banned all public advertising, and shows what a city completely devoid of billboards looks like. He watches commercials while undergoing a brain scan and learns that his brain is actually releasing dopamine, a sign of addiction. If it were just a movie about the selling of a single movie this could be written off, but Greatest Movie Ever Sold has so much more to say.
Despite a few moments that drag on a little too long, Spurlock’s film is as much a hilarious comedy as it is a captivating documentary. It’ll leave you questioning every stray soda can in the background of a blockbuster. The only question left to answer in this review is whether I just effectively sold The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.