Michael Moore is like that loveably annoying friend of yours that you dread seeing every few years, but once you’ve actually sat down and had a few beers, you remember why you liked them in the first place and you make a bunch of plans to hang out every week but then another few years go by and you start dreading seeing them again, so on and so forth.
Michael Moore has, with his typical mix of humor and well-curated “facts”, has slunk his way back into theaters with Where To Invade Next, a film ostensibly set to highlight Michael Moore’s strange new sense of optimism. But, because the United States, in Moore’s opinion, is a festering hot-bed of horribleness, to explore how a kernel of smiling got stuck in his craw, he has to venture around the globe, highlighting just what other countries are doing better. And, to be frank, a lot of countries are doing amazing things that America, for a variety of reasons, has failed to pick up on, and watching Moore interact with the world as a hapless American looking to “invade” and pilfer their most progressive attributes is a good time. Moore’s a fun personality – that old, crotchety uncle that smells a little like pee but fills your brain with good-old fashioned revolution – and his choices of destination – Sweden, Tunisia, etc. – will, quite handily, remind you just what our country is missing. People forget, in all the turmoil caused by Michael Moore having an opinion, that he’s actually a solid pop-umentary style filmmaker. The scenes in Sweden, at a maximum security prison where inmates have their own rooms, cooking utensils and free time, is interspersed with scenes of American police officers beating their captive prisoners. It’s not subtle, but man, if it isn’t effective. In the past, where Moore has focused primarily on one subject, here he’s taking a wider view of the world in general, and America’s quickly fading place in it, and though he still gets in some wow moments throughout the film, if you dig much deeper past the visuals, his point tends to lose focus. Because, sure, all of these countries Moore focuses on have specific items of interest that America could/should be considering, but Moore points an approving finger at these individual programs without showcasing how they fit into the context of the country in general. Yes, Sweden has a very liberal prison system that does great things for its ex-cons (wonderful things that are easily statistically captured) but Moore, in a movie where he’s talking about how lagging America is, shouldn’t focus on his subject’s flaws, because that would hamstring his point. So instead of getting a truly insightful film, we get a highlight reel of awesome things other people do in other places, and constant reminders that the U.S. of A isn’t there yet. If optimism is making Moore a less focused, more superficial director, I’m happy to take back the negative.
One Last Thought:
Maybe this film is what it looks like to have one of the founders of something (in this case pop-umentary style documentaries) return his kingdom after all the other kingdoms have grown bigger and stronger than his. Maybe Moore is trying to be a little more shallow, a little less focused, a little more “fun” in the face of all the competition he helped build. Or maybe the studio wanted a Michael Moore movie, but not the depressing type about guns and corrupt corporations.