The film: Have you ever wondered why in your favorite movie or TV show some character always has their favorite soda brand so prominently displayed in his or her home, why they use a specific brand of soap, where a sweater from a specific label, or drive a certain kind of car? In Morgan Spurlock’s 2011 film, he explores the intricacies of product placement and advertising in, but not limited to, the movies. The film follows Morgan on his journey to make this movie by seeking advertisers of his own to be featured in and ultimately pay for his movie while taking time to discuss the impact of such things on our culture with various experts. The audience is privy to the inception, the struggle, and the successful exposure of the notoriously secretive world. He secures various advertisers from JetBlue Airlines to POM Wonderful Pomegranate juice to Mini Cooper to Old Navy and Ban deodorant as well as taking time to talk shop with the likes of intellectual heavy hitters like Noam Chomsky and Sut Jhally to film industry giants like J.J. Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, and Donald Trump. Everything this movie touches turns it into the greatest – the greatest car you’ll ever drive, the greatest shoes you’ll ever wear, the Greatest Song You’ve Ever Heard (an awesome track by alt-rock band Ok Go), etc. – which makes you the greatest audience ever, and you never feel otherwise when watching this movie. It’s smart and hilarious and fun and worth having a copy on the shelf at home so you can watch it over and over again.
Why you should see it: In the last few years documentaries have almost completely ceased to be informative nonfiction films and instead have mutated into mostly (though not always) accusatory, guilt-inducing moral treatises where people intend to expose you to the horrors of reality in order to burn their causes into your memory and hopefully inspire you to donate money to save dolphins or to write a letter to your congressman to complain about whatever. Saving wildlife and bettering your country are just platforms, but watching those kinds of movies (scientists have done studies) is bad for your health. The thought of going to a documentary is like going to get a root canal – it’s terrifying and painful but good for your health. I find that thought tragic; going to see an informative film shouldn’t constantly be an act of masochism, it should be something to relish. As a filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock brings a distinctive view to all of his films that, for the most part, every other documentarian out there seems to forget: its okay to laugh.
I believe that one of the reasons Spurlock is, well, the way he is is because he started his career as an entertainer rather than a whistleblower. Back in 2002, Spurlock brought his webcast show ‘I Bet You Will’ to MTV, a ‘Fear Factor’-kind of game show where people would win money if they completed some outlandish task. Whether you know the show or not, the hallmark of its creator could easily be guessed as entertainment. With POM Wonderful Presents: The greatest Movie Ever Sold as with all of his films, Spurlock’s main concern is always to create a viable and strong relationship with his audience; he never talks down to his viewers, he doesn’t throws around polarizing remarks like perhaps his peer Michael Moore, and he always narratively places himself in the first row instead of at the pulpit. He’s an average joe trying to find his way to the truth of the health of fast food and the safety of the world with Osama Bin Laden in it and the cultural needs of grooming and the overzealousness of product placement and advertising.
There isn’t a Spurlock documentary out there I don’t love, and as impactful as Super Size Me is, I believe that Greatest Movie is his greatest achievement to date. Very early on in the film he explains that his goal is transparency, showing the cogs and gears behind the cottage industry of advertising that are now so engineered and orchestrated within or daily lives that we don’t even realize they’re there. Going to this movie is like that great college class where the teacher was so amazing you fell in love with the material you were learning no matter what it was even if it was something you thought you always hated. This movie is the perfect combination of clever, informative, and entertaining. It made me simultaneously happy as well as aware of so many things I’d never given a thought to before. And did I mention how ingenious this movie is? A movie about product placement paid for by product placement. A note to English teachers out there: when you teach metatheater to your students, skip the Pirandello and watch The Greatest Movie Ever Sold instead.