POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST STORY EVER SOLD (Dir. Morgan Spurlock, 2011)
Morgan Spurlock made a name for himself with SUPER SIZE ME, a documentary in which he filmed himself eating McDonald’s food for one month. He followed that up with WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?, another ambitiously gimmicky documentary that was equally inconsequential.
Spurlock’s latest film is his gimmickiest for sure – it’s a movie about product placement that was financed by, wait for it, product placement!
So, a lot of this movie is a series of pitch meetings to companies that he wants to feature in his film. Spurlock approaches all the major, and not so major, corporations (well, not McDonald’s for obvious reasons) and gets rejected by most of them (“that doesn’t sound like a movie I’d have any interest in seeing” says one of the folks he cold calls), but a number of companies sign on. The one that ponied up the biggest bucks ($1 million), POM Wonderful, was rewarded with their name above the title, in case you’re wondering about the film’s bloated name.
Spurlock pads the film with interviews with film makers like J.J. Abrams, Peter Berg, Quentin Tarantino, and Brett Ratner who have differing views on product placement. Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, and On The Media host Bob Garfield also appear. Spurlock asks Nader if there’s any truth in advertising. Nader responds: “Yeah, if the advertiser tells you they’re lying.”
In one of the film’s most interesting bit is a visit to San Paulo in Brazil, a city that has banned billboards and advertising of every kind from its streets and buildings. Spurlock hammers the point though with resident’s comments, and his own obvious statements: “Look, that taxi has no ad on it!” We get it.
Spurlock is never as funny, insightful, and engaging as he thinks he is, and there’s too many stretches where the film has nothing to say about its subject. I have no idea if Spurlock thinks product placement is good or bad, I’d guess that he thinks it’s good if it benefits him.
There’s a lot of stuff a good documentarian could do with the premise. It would be cool to learn the history of advertising on the big screen, what were the biggest deals made, with more insight into the argument over its merits.
Instead we get Spurlock walking around a grocery store making lame jokes about products. He’s particularly amused about the shampoo for humans and horses Mane ‘n Tail. He giggles as he phones them, but I sure didn’t.
And then there's his cutesy mock commercial he makes for his sponsors. Really icky stuff.
Spurlock’s Michael Moore methods all fall flat once again.
In one of the pitch meetings in the first third, Spurlock says that “the goal of this whole film is transparency. You're going to see the whole thing take place from beginning to end.”
The film, and Spurlock, are indeed transparent - I can see right through them.