At times I found Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold entertaining. At times I found it clever. Other times I found it informative. What I never found in this movie was a point. Spurlock’s idea is to take the audience behind the curtain into the sneaky world of product placement in films, and, in broad strokes, look at advertising as a whole in America. The additional twist is that this revealing movie about product placement that Spurlock wants to make is also going to be funded solely by product placement.
As a foundation, this is fine. Spurlock oscillates between trying to whore himself out and speaking with people like Noam Chomsky about advertising and its dangers. In practice, however, it’s aimless. If you’re looking for information, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for Spurlock to take a stand against the evils of advertising, you’re going to be left wanting. In this way, the film is more of an essay than a documentary, with the ultimate result being the observation that advertising’s everywhere and that this is not going to change anytime soon. In this sense, the man who told us that McDonald’s is bad for you with Super Size Me (2004) has made No S**t Spurlock 2.
Your enjoyment of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold will be less dependent on your take on Spurlock the director, but rather Spurlock the personality. Personally, I don’t mind him that much, finding myself less offended by his tendency towards smugness and more so towards that goofy accoutrement he calls a mustache and his penchant for simplistics. The film opens with the quite specious claim that the reason we’re bombarded with product placement in films is that technology like the Internet and TiVo have made TV ads obsolete. This is ignoring that product placement is hardly a recent development in Hollywood, dating at least back to the ‘30s when Brunswick radios had a deal set up with Warner Bros. to only use their product in scenes featuring radios—right down to a credit reading “Brunswick radios used exclusively.”
This isn’t to say The Greatest Movie Ever Sold doesn’t have its merits, or that I found myself bored while watching it. There are clever bits here and there. Spurlock talking with Ralph Nader about the pitfalls of advertising and then tricking him into hawking shoes is amusing. Hearing Quentin Tarantino talk about how brands—specifically Denny’s—refuse to let him even use their products is interesting. And as a look at the way and means we’re advertised to, it’s interesting. But what does it all mean? Is the movie about product placement? Advertising? Insufficient public school funding? The dangers of selling your artistic integrity? I can’t tell. The irony—or maybe this is indeed the point—is that the movie works best as advertising. I can say one thing for sure: I learned more about pomegranate juice from this movie than I did about advertising. For a movie that thinks it’s as clever as it does, it sure has little to say. Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual material.