I missed the new movie by Morgan Spurlock earlier this year at Sundance, where SUPER SIZE ME made him an indie star, but it’s an interesting premise that had everybody talking: produce a docu about product placement in movies and tv whose $1.5 million production budget is completely funded by product placement.
Now I’ve seen the end result, which I guess I must reveal is officially called POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD, and while it has its moments, it feels artless and repetitious: gosh, see how ubiquitous product placement has become? We understand all this within five minutes as Spurlock tries to persuade advertisers that they’ll become his partners (an uphill battle, considering that he made his reputation by trashing McDonalds for an entire film). Problem is that he keeps on saying, gosh, see how ubiquitous…
Probably because of SUPER SIZE ME, none of the usual suspects will go anywhere near Spurlock, no Coke or Mickey D’s. (Full disclosure: my wife was working for a neuromarketing firm which was invited to participate, but declined — to my way of thinking, wisely. She’s now at a different company, the move non-Spurlock-related.) So, using the advice of some genuine heavy hitters in advertising and product placement, he turns his attention to second-tier brands, and damn if he doesn’t convince about 15 of them to get on board. As they say in the ad biz, Spurlock gives great meeting, and his thoughts about promoting his partners in the film are very inventive; he would make one hell of an adman himself. We also see some genuine spots, from storyboard to actual production, that he produces for his most generous partners. Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate juice marketer, ponies up $1 million for naming rights, thus the title, but that money is tied to some very strict effectiveness requirements. They are joined by Ban deodorant, the convenience store chain Sheetz, Jet Blue, Hyatt hotels, and a host of others — including Mane ‘n’ Tail shampoo, actually used for both horses and human beings, which Spurlock discovers in a drug store and finds just so funny that the stuff makes it into the film without payment.
Spurlock himself can convey irony and likability at the same time, so while an interviewee talks about incongrous placement in a scene, he says, “Yeah, who would do a thing like that?” and lifts up a Pom Wonderful for a nice Cokelike swig in backlit profile. Quentin Tarantino complains that he was refused several times by Denny’s, which is where he wanted to open both RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION (to him, that’s where the characters are), but after reading his scripts, the chain said no dice. Q and Spurlock are sitting outside at a large round white table. There’s nothing on the table except a single stick of Ban.
Pounding the same thought gets tiresome, though you do have to marvel at what Spurlock is actually achieving — that’s really him welcoming real Jet Blue passengers on a pre-flight video — and the spots he creates actually make the brands look hip enough to know what they’re doing by participating in this stunt. The movie slags as Spurlock goes to an eerily blank Sao Paulo, where the city has banned all outdoor advertising, and Florida’s Broward County school system, where he becomes a customer. But then you get chats with Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader, who is quite amusing as he accepts some obvious swag: a pair of shoes from Spurlock’s partner Merrell.
The self-reference keeps you watching, Spurlock is very clever, but in essence he is shooting fish in a barrel. Once he attunes you to the product placement all around you, it’s easy to spot, and that only takes a few minutes. The only wonderment left is his cheerful determination to get this damn movie underwritten by anybody besides himself.