Michael Moore Travels Far And Wide For The Next Good Idea
Michael Moore, that progressive shlub you could hang with, has done something smart. His latest film, Where to Invade Next, opts to have fun. Moore has always been known for his effective use of comedy in conjunction with his agenda-driven ventures. But this time, he more freely embraces his image as an out of shape, disheveled everyman to great effect as he hopscotches from one country to the next chatting up locals and getting to the bottom of the global what’s-what. The movie’s too long, too unwieldy, and very much all over the place, but it’s a forgivable ramble.
More-so than some of his previous works, he seems to be genuinelyenjoying his process of agitproping, even as it’s also apparent that he regards all of this as an endeavor worth undertaking. He’s all over the movie to a large degree, wandering about in old ball caps that are pulled lopsided over his disheveled untrimmed hair, and hauling a big ‘ol American flag for good measure.
The idea is to thematically trade on what America has gotten hooked on doing in the past few decades: invading other countries. But this time, it’s not about the military.
Instead, Moore is a one-man invasion force (not counting his production crew, which might in fact constitute a small army) on the premise of infiltrating and stealing good ideas. From the superior school lunch program of France to the loose work schedule of Italy to Iceland’s female-centric banking system to Germany’s long slow process of publicly acknowledgingand repenting of its fascist past, no topic is off limits. Each segment is a lot like tidily compacted version of his two-hour health insurance screed, Sicko, sharing that film’s ultimate urging of a collective thinking of “we” rather than “me”.
Moore‘s capitalizing on his established persona, particularly for this piecemeal film, goes a great distance in unifying the otherwise topically diverse segments. Where to Invade Next plays like a patchwork travelogue, a series or thinly connected episodes in which the filmmaker shows up and explains what lured him there, quickly detailing whatever it is that the country in question is excelling at.
In each country, he meets some people, asks some questions, wanders around admiring the place, delivers a few laughs, maybe cultivates a little calculated outrage directed stateside before finally focusing on the topic at hand. Finally, every time, it ends with him planting his large U.S. flag and proclaiming the idea officially stolen for his home country. (Fun side game: Spot all the different makeshift flagpoles and flag rigging methods Moore utilizes throughout the film. My favorite? Multiple pieces of green rebar bundled together with gaffer’s tape.)
It’s been a while since Moore’s last film, 2009’s Capitalism: A Love Story. Perhaps then it’s understandable that he feels like he has so many diverse topics that need covering. It’s not so much a question of “where to invade next?” as “what to talk about first.”
While the topics themselves are hard to dispute as worthy of examination, the question of Moore’s brand relevance has loomed over this project. Is there still a place for the likes of Michael Moore in our soon-to-be post-Obama world?
It can’t be a coincidence that the past eight years have seen Moore at his career quietest. It seems wrong, at least weird,to cite a documentary filmmaker as having become irrelevant. Was D.A. Pennebaker ever considered “irrelevant”? Frederick Wiseman? Albert Maysles?
Yet, Moore, with his showmanship and cult of personality, stands apart from (if never above) those guys, artistically and formally. Perhaps it’s because Moore, despite having won an Academy Award in said category, is not truly a documentarian. A documentarian, in the purest sense, films unfiltered truth. This film, by contrast, opens with a blatantly fabricated premise in which we’re told that the U.S. Joint Chiefs have recruited Moore to properly invade foreign countries, a task they’ve failed at. It’s been said before, and probably plenty, but Moore is, by far, more of a propagandist. The title “Where to Invade Next” is a statement, not a question. In light of this film, this simply bears saying again, since, you know, he’s been “irrelevant” and all.
Where to Invade Next is admittedly weaker Michael Moore fare, devoid of much of the pointed anger and outrage of something like Fahrenheit 9/11. But unlike another onetime firebrand who’s lost his edge, Oliver Stone, Moore’s latest benefits by his apparent mellowing with age. Although this can be looked at as a return to classic form (even if that form is more evocative of his TV series’ The Awful Truth or TV Nation than Roger & Me), Moore now sports a few more wrinkles and maybe a few more chins. But he knows how to put his sweatshirt aesthetic to good use. The parade of progressive ideas is steeped in a certain approachable demeanor that benefits the film’s bottom line approach of propagation, if not pure propaganda. In other words, Moore is now less on the attack than he is interested in bettering, improving, and inspiring.
People who thought they hated Michael Moore might find this watchable, even engaging and enjoyable.
Even as his schtick is becomes repetitive in this too-lengthy movie (its two hours is more than enough), Where to Invade Next demonstrates that, whether you agree with Moore or not, there’s still some energy and spark amid the filmmaker’s shluby approach and good intentions.