I enjoy slick documentaries with a sense of fun about themselves almost as much as I enjoy films that can be described as ‘meta,’ so by all indicators, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold should be my new favorite documentary. Sadly, it fails to deliver on it’s own lofty premise, though no one can fault the ambition of director Morgan Spurlock.
The premise here is fairly simple, to make a movie exploring product placement and finance that movie via product placement. We follow Spurlock as he meets with ad men, corporate bigwigs, and experts to explore how product placement works and what effect it may be having on our culture.
While I am far from the biggest fan of Spurlock’s work, having only recently gotten around to Super Size Me (a well-made documentary that does a slick job of proving it’s own obvious point) and not having seen any of that TV show he did or the more recent Where In the World Is Osama bin Laden?, I do think there is something infectious about his personality. It’s that personality that carries most of the proceedings here, and since part of this movie is about the Morgan Spurlock Brand, that helps.
The main part of the movie follows Spurlock trying to finance the film. He meets with marketing gurus who turn down his idea, and then finally gets going when Ban deodorant steps up and commits $100,000 to the project. Later on, POM Wonderful buys the naming rights (not unlike a sports stadium) for a cool million. All of this is intercut with interviews with people like Ralph Nader and others lamenting the effect of advertising on our society, very brief interviews with some directors like JJ Abrams and Brett Ratner, as well as a JetBlue/Hyatt comped jaunt down to Sao Palo, the first city to eliminate outdoor advertising.
By far the most entertaining people in the film aside from Spurlock himself are Lynda Resnick, owner of POM, and the Sheetz guys. For those of you not local to the Pennsylvania area, Sheetz is a family-owned gas/convenience chain. They seemed to be the most enthusiastic paying sponsor the movie has, and I plan on trying to get a set of the commemorative cups they are selling as a promotion. Of course, it was awesome seeing a company I know and love up on the big screen, so that was a nice bonus two.
Overall, I think the movie was effective in showing the process behind how product placement works, but failed in demonstrating the effect. There are no in-depth assessments of product placement, or examples of egregious control exhibited by any of the corporations mentioned in the film (besides Norm Marshall, who will deny you cars if you bad mouth Alka Seltzer). While Super Size Me has some wonderful scenes of Spurlock in agony and despair over his growing paunch and weakened breath, PWP: TGMES does not have any crazy stunts or ridiculous conditions he has to adhere to, or any trouble he gets into with a sponsor (so POM shot down his commercial idea, boo hoo!). And so I left the film with two feelings. One, that the movie has a lot more bark than bite, and two, damn did I want some POM Wonderful 100% pure pomegranate juice (which I subsequently bought).
Jill: Throughout the beginning of the documentary, Spurlock describes how he wants his movie to be made to the audience-and the audience gets a truncated version of it at the end. I think this is the only subtle indication that the “investors” had their say in what the final product yielded…to a certain degree.