Spurlock's lightweight style of investigation simply can’t add enough journalistic gravitas to stop the film sinking under the weight of its own irony.
Morgan Spurlock has always been one to throw himself into his documentaries – in a very literal sense – so it’s unsurprising that this latest investigative outing should once again see him on a personal quest. This time, Spurlock is affably exploring the issue of advertising in film by making a documentary about his own efforts to raise several million dollars from advertising and product placement in order to make a documentary – this one.
The opening scene finds Spurlock pitching to a room of marketing suits, happily churning out his corporate sales spiel to sell the grand vision of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold – or as it’s renamed after one successful million-dollar pitch, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
As he so keenly explains throughout, the premise of his latest adventure is to pull back the curtain on advertising and sponsorship, while being completely transparent about the industry that subtly and unsubtly feeds you logos and in-script brand messages along with your popcorn.
And so, in that spirit, Spurlock conspicuously stays in a Hyatt hotel suite while on an excursion to explore the ban on outdoor advertising in São Paulo; conducts interviews with academics and consumer researchers in Sheetz gas stations and JetBlue terminals; and even slots a fully-scripted advert for POM Wonderful into a narrative on brands’ deliberately misleading advertising.
At times, it seems like Spurlock has pulled off a minor creative coup, convincing brands to back a documentary that fundamentally questions their commercial ethics. But unfortunately, the director’s lightweight style of investigation simply can’t add enough journalistic gravitas to stop the film sinking under the weight of its own irony.
While Spurlock stresses that both he and his lawyers fought tooth-and-nail to keep creative control, the fact that he delivers the tongue-in-cheek promotional messages of the film’s sponsors so convincingly means it’s hard not to question whether he’s just taken the money and started running.
Another stumbling block is that there doesn’t seem to be a direct target for his scrutiny. The broad idea that Hollywood films and TV are awash with covert adverts may well be a good starting point, but we aren’t taken any deeper down than the rabbit hole. The end result is simply a few facts and figures you probably could have guessed yourself.
At one point, Spurlock does drift off to consider the rampant commercialisation of schools – a topic that perhaps he’d do better focusing the whole film on – but he ends that line of enquiry by cheerily buying some advertising banners for his film to put outside the school playing field. This final undermining gesture merely serves as a brief distraction from the huge amount of fun he’s having as an unconventional corporate poster boy.
But by far the most annoying aspect of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is that by the time it’s over, you’ll be consciously craving half the products that Spurlock has been so keen to hawk, meaning that those nasty marketing suits have actually won after all.
Another chance for Spurlock to prove he’s not a one trick pony.
Oh the delicious, self-referential irony.
Who’s up for some delicious pomegranate juice? Wait… Shit!