Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary, “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” is the very essence of meta—it’s a film about product placement funded entirely by product placement, with the pitches, deals and subsequent cross-promotion making up the narrative. It’s also pretty funny.
Spurlock gets off to a rocky start in his introduction, blaming the proliferation of advertising partly on TiVo, despite studies showing that most folks continue to sit through commercials even when watching shows they’ve recorded. Still, there’s no denying that commercial messages are slowly creeping into every crevice of our lives, and Spurlock takes us on a journey into the sausage factory of product placement.
It’s obviously a fine line he’s walking, as he’s in danger of coming off as a flaming hypocrite at every turn, but he mostly keeps his integrity intact, thanks largely to almost total transparency. The film is a journey through the entire process, as Spurlock meets with agents, lawyers and consultants to discuss how to approach prospective partners, with terms like “brand personality” and “faction”—a hilarious portmanteau of fiction and fact—getting tossed around.
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At various points, the people with whom he’s talking get understandably confused, with one asking what exactly the film would be compromised of, to which Spurlock responds, “This is the movie right now.”
Spurlock also visits Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader about the perils of such partnerships. Chomsky, the author of “Manufacturing Consent" (which itself was turned into an interesting if polemical documentary) warns him that first you put a toe in the water and the next thing you know, “you’re swimming.” Asked where one should go to be free of advertising, Nader says “Asleep.” But these two aging lions are nothing next to Robert Weissman of the organization Public Citizen, who wants small warnings to pop up on the screen to point out every instance of product placement.
Although there are interesting takes on product placement from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Brett Ratner and Big Boi, of the rap duo Outkast, it’s Matt & Kim, the little known rock group from New York, who have the most salient defense of going into business with advertisers, “I just want everyone to hear our music.”
One of the most common, and not at all unfair, complaints about Spurlock’s work is that it’s too much about himself. But having reached a certain level of fame, putting himself at the center of "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," a film about the buying and selling of personality cults, is totally appropriate and effective.