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POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011)

April 22, 2011

written by: Morgan Spurlock & Jeremy Chilnick

produced by: Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, Abbie Hurewitz, Keith Calder & Jessica Wu

directed by: Morgan Spurlock
rated PG-13 (for some language and sexual material) 
88 min.
U.S. release date: April 22, 2011

With his third documentary, writer/director Morgan Spurlock has set out to make a “docbuster”, as he calls it. He’s proven how awful McDonald’s is for you in “SuperSize Me” and shown us that not every Muslim is a terrorist in “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?” Now he examines the subject of product placement in movies and television. Wait. Don’t we already know about this? Aren’t we used to it by now? Hasn’t it been around for, it seems like, forever? That may be the case and it’s something Spurlock knows full well, but what he sets out to do here still proves to be eye-opening, entertaining, and quite often hilarious.
While it’s never really clear why he’s chosen such a topic, Spurlock does at least choose an engagingly meta course of action throughout. His goal is to win as many sponsors as he can to pay for his entire movie. See? Pretty clever. Like his previous docs, Spurlock takes us along for the ride, and I must say there’s fun to be had in watching the whole process. He’s got a certain self-aware smugness about him that still exudes charm, as he shows himself cold-calling corporations and being turned down by the likes of Volkswagon. At no point do we wonder if he’ll succeed in getting the movie funded, because well, we’re in the theater watching it. We know it’s a done deal, but seeing how it came to be is interesting.   
So, although we know all about advertising and product placement because it’s in our faces every single day, we do learn a few new things along with Spurlock. There’s this process called neuro-marketing where a person’s noggin is scanned while being inundated by a barrage of visual stimuli (think “A Clockwork Orange”), and then the brain activity is studied to see what images have spiked the charts. It’s a thorough biological approach (which Spurlock himself tries out, of course)  that apparently tells marketing and PR firms what to hawk. I knew about the focus groups but that approach was new to me. 

Spurlock also shows us how desensitized we’ve gotten in regards to all the signs, billboards and neon displays all around us, specifically in major cities. He takes us to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where not too long ago a law was passed to remove any and all advertising along the roads and on buildings. “Visual pollution” they called it. The result is a city that at first looks naked, or like something out of “I Am Legend”, but then something happens. We start to see the natural beauty surrounding the bare structures, while local markets and stores were left to find other ways to bring in consumers. Spurlock is just as amazed as we are and when he finds out that not much has changed since the removal of all the signage, one has to wonder how well a decision like that would go over in day Los Angeles where movie billboards along Sunset Blvd. tower over many buildings.  

While those scenes had a serious tone, the film detours back to hilarity as Spurlock continues to shill his product in an effort to gain products. It’s fun to see him fail at his early efforts, which leads him to pitch for some lesser-known companies like Amy’s Kitchen, Seventh Generation, Inc. or forgotten ones like Ban deodorant. Much of the fun comes when we see the reactions to Spurlock’s storyboard presentations in his pitch meetings with these companies. He knows it’s pretty funny and he’s having fun with it, especially when the people on the other side of the table aren’t quite sure what to think. 

Eventually, agreements are made and contracts are signed and we see the movie we are watching basically get greenlit. The companies that agree are smart, knowing that they’ll get exposure to millions, even though Spurlock jokingly assures one potential sponsor that the film is guaranteed to be seen by “dozens!” Soon names that don’t really need the exposure like Old Navy, Hyatt, Mini-Cooper (take that, VW!), and JetBlue come through, just as others like Sheetz (an east coast company offering convenient marts and gas stations) and Mane n’ Tail, a shampoo good for both humans and horses, get some notice. 

Throughout the film, we see Spurlock discuss the subject with a number of professionals in a variety of fields. Seeking both insight and advice, he sits down with philosopher Noam Chomsky and has some considerable laughs with activist Ralph Nader. He actually winds up educating Nader on the benefits of Merrell shoes while drinking POM juice. That’s right, POM signs on as one of the larger contributors (hence the film’s title) and in turn Spurlock agrees to only use their beverage during the film, even while promoting it on Jimmy Kimmel (a funny bit of in-joke self-promotion). Spurlock also chats with notable directors such as Quentin Tarantino, J.J. Abrams, Peter Berg and Brett Ratner. They share their experiences with corporate sponsors and their opinions on the matter. It’s a welcome candid back and forth for the most part, but you can tell who is more annoying among them. 

There are many who dislike Spurlock and his work, and I’ll admit, going into the film, I didn’t think much of him. But I was reminded how charismatic and engaging the guy is, as he inserts himself into front of the camera. He comes across like an “everyman” who has some of the same questions that you and I might have. Sure, at times he’s undeniable cheeky and knowingly clever with his graphics and editing, but the best thing about him is: he’s never boring. That’s a big thing for those who are normally averse to such films. Which makes him a solid gateway filmmaker to those who prefer to follow films that have Slurpees and Happy Meals tied to them.
RATING: **1/2        

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