‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ Review: The Greatest Review Ever Written?

Birth of a Salesman. | Photo by Monica Castillo

Warning: This documentary contains as many sponsors as your average summer movie blockbuster.

That factoid kicks off the inquisitive look at the wide world of marketing. The good, the bad, and the industry are placed under the lens of documentarian Morgan Spurlock. Mr. Spurlock decided to make his next movie into a “doc-buster,” a documentary addressing the world of marketing and advertising, paid for by sponsors. This is either the smarmiest or smartest move a director ever attempted by a director.

It has its fair share of both. We’ve seen Spurlock’s daredevil wit before in Super-Size Me, a look at the fat-food industry that nearly killed him. But unlike his previous films, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold lacks the bite of a liberal-leaning Spurlock bent on proving a point. This time around, he’s acts as retriever instead of a pointer. He digs up interesting interviews and explores concepts like neural imaging for the use of marketing to our id or the fact that in Sao Paulo, Brazil, “visual pollution” is outlawed. The movie is relatively unbiased. After all, he did have 23 sponsors that teamed up with him to fund and promote his doc-buster experiment.

Spurlock highlights some tense areas of interaction between the advertising industry and its audience. He looks at the case of a school in Broward County, Florida, that is struggling to keep the school operating after a series of recession-induced budget cuts. The school’s solution is to sell advertising on the fences of the school, on the side of school buses, and on the walls of their school. The example of the school was incredibly poignant. It illustrated just how pervasive marketing culture has become. There are other films that take a more vicious and thorough attack on marketing to children, such as Consuming Children. Fun fact: one of the leading commentators in that documentary sat down with Spurlock for a brief interview regarding the damages of consumer culture on children-in a Sheetz restaurant, of course.

But the majority of the movie is far from serious. “Serious” is not the right word to describe the nasty phone call from Guess Jeans telling Spurlock isn’t billboard friendly or the hysterical “fake” promotional commercials with which Spurlock intercuts his film. Once POM Wonderful comes aboard, all other drinks in the movie are blurred out. Even Quintin Tarantino gets pitched Ban deodorant during an interview for the movie.

Perhaps one of the most amusing scenes was Spurlock’s interview session to “find his brand.” After a string of questions delving into his childhood and beyond, Spurlock was placed into a personality category and was matched up to brands similar to him. Because brands are like people, they have personalities and a certain appeal to others. This movie is not big on thrills, but it is quite methodical in showing the approach that marketers take when developing campaigns for their brand. Perhaps one could say The Great Movie Ever Sold is the greatest introduction to marketing one can find.

I know when I first walked out of “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” I felt short changed. That’s it? No call to arms to take down the advertising industry, no plea to save our children’s gullible minds from the clutches of greedy men in suits? The movie felt more like a discussion than a propaganda film. Perhaps this is why many other reviewers are walking out of the theaters with a middling “meh” review. Audiences are used to the Michael Moore style of documentary, a movie so packed with a message that if the audience walks out of the theater without the need to write a letter to Congress, they feel cheated. But Spurlock doesn’t seem to want a revolution. He asks his audience to pause and think. Is there life without advertising? Can one pick out his or her purchases without singing the commercial’s jingle? A “hmm” is not the same thing as a “meh.” The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, ironically, does not seem to be selling anything– and that deserves some thought.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold opens April 22nd.

Interesting and vibrant, this colorful commercial of a movie sets out to teach us a thing or two about the business of ad men and women. Fortunately, for movie goers, the commercials in the movie stay at the same volume of the movie and make for some cheeky entertainment. B+

About Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo (CAS '11) is a Film writer for the Quad. Drawn into the world of film studies accidentally, she's continued on writing, writing, and writing about film since. She also co-writes on another blog, http://beyondthebacklot.wordpress.com/, which is about even geekier film stuff. If you have the time, she would love to watch a movie with you.

View all posts by Monica Castillo →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *