In Self-Congratulatory, Smug and Intellectually Lazy “Where to Invade Next,” It’s Michael Moore Who Needs Saving

Where to Invade Next

Where to Invade Next (Michael Moore, 2015)

Where to invade next? Where to start . . . ? Filmmaker Michael Moore begins with a mildly funny satirical construct: travel the world as a representative of the United States, interview citizens of other countries, and then, once their superior (to ours) social systems are revealed, plant the American flag and claim that country as our own. In this way, Moore hopes to shine a light on those aspects of his native land that are in need of improving, which include, but are not limited to: education, health care, work hours and prisons. As a good progressive, I am, in fact, in favor of such comparisons … where they are valid and can teach us something. I am not, however, in favor of using one or two examples from each (randomly) chosen country as a stand-in for the whole culture, with no supporting data to back up the claims Moore makes. It’s an unsatisfactory argument, and far too easy to puncture. It relies on an audience that both already agrees with the filmmaker and sees no need to delve deeper. It’s like an internet meme that is comforting because it tells you what you think you know but may or may not be true. We’re all guilty of clicking “like” on our favorites without further investigation, and so be it. But when we’re talking about a documentary film masquerading as journalism, the standards should be higher.

Michael Moore did us all a favor in 1989 when he released his first feature, Roger & Me. It was a brilliant takedown of Roger Smith, then-CEO of General Motors, who had downsized his company’s activities in its traditional home base of Flint, MI, thereby throwing the local economy into disarray. Moore tracked Smith relentlessly until he  was able to confront him at a GM shareholders’ meeting. Even though his microphone was cut off, his camera caught the whole thing, and the result was an embarrassing cinematic exposé of corporate greed at its worst. This was fantastic activist journalism, and the film rightly propelled Moore into the public eye as a director to watch. I wish he would go back to Flint, now, to make a movie about their water crisis.

Since that time, Moore’s output has been steady but uneven, as both filmmaker and author (I loved his book Stupid White Men, but found Dude, Where’s My Country tiresome). For every brilliant Bowling for Columbine, there has been a more obvious and strident Fahrenheit 9/11; for every moving Sicko, there has been an obnoxiously vapid Capitalism: A Love Story. And now we have this new film, which panders to Moore’s worst tendencies as a showman without his better qualities as an investigator. In the course of the movie, we visit Italy, France, Finland, Slovenia, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Tunisia and Iceland – with no explanation as to why these countries were chosen – meet a few folks here and there, and then listen to Moore’s grandiloquent sermons about how much we can learn from our (mostly European) neighbors across the Atlantic. I, too, want universal health care and education, better prisons, and stronger unions (which I agree are not incompatible with capitalism). But I also do not imagine that the one happy Italian couple I see are representative of all Italians, nor that the two factories I visit, where unions and bosses work in harmony, tell me the whole story. Would the film not make its point stronger with more facts at hand? Ah, but that would require actual work, and here, at least, Moore demonstrates a consistent intellectual laziness that is breathtaking to behold. This is not only one of the worst films of 2015, but one of the worst films I have ever seen. To be avoided at all costs. No one should be rewarded for such drivel.

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