Morgan Spurlock makes first-person documentary filmmaking look easy and fun. He cracks up frequently on camera, in a “Get this!” or “Isn’t this wild?” moment, and he’s nothing if not a self-promoter, selling his latest feature-length stunt with, as they say, personality.
Best known for his 30-day-McDonald’s-diet diary Super Size Me (2004), the West Virginia native has now turned to the ultimate movie sell, the paradoxically mysterious yet blatant realm of product placement. POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is an extended anecdote in which Spurlock tries to finance the $1.5 million movie he’s making by pursuing various “brand integration” possibilities. In other words, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a movie about what it took to make The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
Armed with unusually good pitch materials, Spurlock whizzes through a series of filmed meetings with executives from Ban deodorant, POM juice and other companies. He also asks questions of various “brand placement” experts, image consultants and, among others, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who is deployed as a kind of moral guidance counselor. Is Spurlock corrupting his documentarian’s mission by whoring around this way? Or do such partnerships constitute a win-win?
Certainly there are things to enjoy in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, from the contrasting viewpoints of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (who wanted to use Denny’s for key scenes in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction but couldn’t) and Rush Hour schlockmeister Brett Ratner, whose footage makes him sound as if he would crawl over broken shards of Budweiser glass to get that extra quarter-million in product placement.
It’s too bad Spurlock settles for so little here, beyond the surface gag. In fits and starts, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold gets you thinking about the depressing prevalence of bus ads, train ads, banner ads and ads within movies, especially when Spurlock takes his camera down to Sao Paulo, a city where outdoor advertising has been conspicuously banned.
We indoctrinate our children at such a vulnerably young age to be rabid, insecure little consumers. Spurlock’s film is mainly out to entertain, and it does. But leaving The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, I wasn’t sure what Spurlock really thought about any of this beyond: Get this. Isn’t this wild?