Michael Moore doesn’t do cute or sincerity very well. Snarky, angry and confrontational rhetoric are his preferred methods of investigative (and extremely biased) journalism. His latest film in some time, Where to Invade Next, showcases the softer side of Moore and the result is in one of his lesser works.
During the opening credits, we see clips of violent occurrences taking place throughout the United States. It seems as though Moore were building towards a feature-length commentary on gun control, a commentary on how violence is out of control in this country or possibly a contrast on how the body count in this country stacks up with others. Actually, we see Moore, appearing older but with an undeniable twinkle in his eye, go on an extended tour of other countries, point out their strong suits and affectionately celebrate how different they are from us. It’s as strangely pleasant, odd and gag-inducing as it reads. I’m glad Moore took a vacation but the fire in his belly appears to be out.
Moore’s Roger & Me is one of the great breakout independent films of the late 1980s and, for all its manipulative muck-raking, Fahrenheit 9/11 is lightning in a bottle, a time capsule of American sensibilities after the horror of September 11, 2001. The points Moore wanted to make with Bowling For Columbine and Sicko, among others, were stronger than the forced, occasionally staged manner in which he chose to present them.
The problem isn’t that much of Moore’s work is so tainted by his own feelings and too contrived to be considered a “documentary.” If anything, his perspective can be valuable, if typically heavy-handed. The problem is that some of his works are frankly more successful in what they have to say, how he comes to his ultimate conclusions and whether he can balance entertainment value with political stumping. Here, Moore is presenting informative nuggets of information that are so easily digestible and gentle in their presentation, his formerly ravenous mode of filmmaking has been rendered toothless.
The framing device, in which Moore addresses high ranking military officers (in an obviously faux sequence) and declares a fake invasion on neighbor countries, is completely lame. All Moore needed to do was declare the information he accumulated, not construct a half-assed “story” that is both embarrassing and limp. Moore’s crusade to confront GM CEO Roger Smith was compelling and suspenseful. In contrast, his jokey meetings with citizens of other countries and sheepishly asking them if he can “invade,” adapt their strong points and post an American flag, comes off as desperate.
I’m glad that I know the school lunch system in Germany is superb and that the lunch periods for factories in Italy are generous. The people Moore meets seem nice and, surprisingly, he’s awfully nice to everyone he speaks to. Why?! I kept waiting for him to ask a political question or comment on how their country feels about America. Everything here is soft-peddled. Were it not for the presence of Moore, who once lambasted President George W. Bush during his Oscar speech, the whole thing would be right at home on the Disney Channel.
Seriously: remember those short films on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood where Fred Rogers would leave his house and take us along on a tour of a factory that makes pencils? That’s the equivalent of what Moore has made and it’s both amusing and utterly flimsy.
Watching Moore go soft isn’t something I care to watch again. I encourage artists to stretch but not when their new sensibility turns them to mush.