by Tim Ross
The pervasiveness of marketing in the film industry isn’t lost on most of us. Every summer blockbuster seems to be accompanied by Happy Meal action figures or souvenir cups.
So when Morgan Spurlock (of “Supersize Me” fame) set out to make a documentary about the impact of advertising in our lives and the corporate marketing dollars behind it, he wasn’t exactly breaking new ground. But what’s surprising is the depth to which companies will go to have their products pushed.
The film begins with Spurlock’s quest to find sponsors for his film. He tells company execs that, should they fund his film, he’ll call their product the greatest of its type in the world and trash their competitors. And, in every meeting, the company execs eat up that idea with a spoon.
Company after company buys into a piece of the film until Spurlock nabs the big fish he’d been seeking: POM Wonderful, a company that makes a 100 percent pomegranate juice drink, agrees to be the title sponsor for a large sum of money.
Spurlock proceeds to load his office and home with dozens of POM Wonderful bottles and, of course, drink it in every interview he conducts. He also exclusively drives Mini Coopers to the interviews, fills them up with gas exclusively at Sheetz filling stations and flies to long-distance meetings solely with Jet Blue, staying only at Hyatt Hotels.
The most reflective moments of the film occur during the pitch process as Spurlock realizes just how much he’ll be owned by these companies in exchange for their funding dollars. Every buy-in comes with long, complicated contracts detailing what Spurlock can and cannot say, what he should and should not promote and how the companies would like to be portrayed in the film.
It’s worth noting that, according to the end credits, Spurlock retained final say over the editing and tone of the film. And it’s that final product that reveals the greed and eagerness of a company to be blatantly discussed in a film meant to expose the depth to which those same companies influence the “artistic” content of the films we see.
Along the way, Spurlock plays cuts from a couple of TV shows that clearly illustrate how actual scenes are influenced by the product that happens to be in their hand while they go about telling the story of the show.
He even interviews a marketer who admitted to intervening on a set when a director wanted to have a character get sick after consuming a particular product. The marketer threatened to pull other products he had supplied to the film, so the scene was rewritten.
Those are the most head-shaking moments of the film.
Spurlock also has the perfect sense of humor to tell this story. He and his team come up with funny ideas for commercials for each of their major sponsors to be incorporated into the film. His comic timing is at its best when he fills his Mini Cooper with gas at a Sheetz store and states “It’s a good thing I’m not having to drive a piece of (junk) Volkswagen.”
But the majority of the comedy comes from the corporate execs as they drool over Spurlock’s offer to shamelessly and repeatedly promote their products even as he somewhat spoofs the dilution of art at the altar of commerce.
“POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” is a humorous, eye-opening exposé of America’s love affair with consumerism. Grab a POM Wonderful, fill up your Mini Cooper at Sheetz and drive to a theater near you and check it out.
Grade: 2.5/4 Stars