I used to like Michael Moore. For all his grandstanding and wobbling, he at times seemed like the only American in the film business with any kind of conscience. Fahrenheit 911 won at Cannes and was certainly a game changer for docs, giving the whole genre and sector a commercial boost that’s lasted for nearly 15 years.
But his shtick is wearing thin, sadly the only thing about him that is.
For his latest film, Where To Invade Next**, the concept is pretty vague. As he did in Sicko, his examination of America’s cruel health service, Moore trundles around various European countries pretending to not know what ordinary people are telling him.
Here, the idea is that he’s going to bring back ideas from other nations and give them to America, because recent wars have failed to deliver anything. It’s a very loose idea and doesn’t work as any kind of comic conceit.
Moore goes to Italy to find out they have more paid holidays and more productivity than the US. He plods into France to marvel at their school dinners and frank sex education; then he’s in Finland to discover they don’t set homework in their schools and yet have the cleverest children in the world.
He even gets to Slovenia (not Slovakia mind you, Slovenia) where they have free universities. Wow.
In Germany, he can’t believe it when he finds factory workers have pleasant conditions and are listened to by bosses and even have prescription spa breaks. And whaddayaknow, Portugal’s cool because they don’t arrest people for drugs. Or beat them up with sticks. And in Norway, the prisons are so nice, the guards don’t even need guns. Not like in America – cue images of police brutality and footage of Regan and Nixon declaring war on drugs, a policy which Moore says is a modern form of slavery (see Eugene Jarecki’s far smarter The House I Live In for a clearer picture of this idea).
So brave is Moore, he even ventures into Arab territory, to Tunisia, where abortion clinics are legal and women have rights.
All through, he maintains a wide-eyed demeanour that’s hugely irritating and downright patronising, both to the country’s he’s visiting and to any American who might watch this. Where To Invade Next? I’ll tell you Michael Moore: someone else’s ideas drawer.