Starring: Michael Moore, Krista Kruiu, Tim Walker
Directed by: Michael Moore (“Fahrenheit 9/11”)
As a public figure, it’s no secret that Michael Moore is extremely divisive. Outspoken and loaded with conviction, most of his films seem to be received in the same way: extremely one-sided, but with interesting talking points. With his latest film, “Where To Invade Next,” Moore fits his MO perfectly.
Despite the rocky setup of being sent to “invade” foreign countries to steal their good ideas, the first few segments of the film are fascinating and somewhat light. Moore goes to Italy to learn about the amount of paid vacation they get, explores the gourmet student lunches in France and free college education Slovenia. The cultural gaps are extremely interesting through American eyes, as Moore’s goal appears to be to simply point out the differences. For the most part, news of the American ways are met with horrified looks from the foreign natives, which is a worthwhile glimpse into the perception that outsiders have of the United States versus reality.
From there, however, things become uneven and borderline preachy. After relatively non-political subjects, Moore takes the middle of the movie to investigate Germany, spending a big chunk of time on the Holocaust and past sins of American history. It’s an unbelievably jarring 180-degree turn, which is immediately followed up by a segment on how the prison system in the U.S. is, in Moore’s terms, “a new form of slavery.” As the tone shifts to pure seriousness, Moore’s viewpoints, agree or disagree, steer the rest of the film and the agendas of his filmmaking begin to emerge.
Nonetheless, Moore still touches on some interesting subjects in the second half, including a look into the astonishing prison system in Norway. The footage here is probably the most shocking (though not graphic) segment in the film. It also feels like a missed opportunity on Moore’s part. This illustrates perhaps the biggest difference in cultures in the film, and one that many American’s might be mortified by. Rather than dig in deep to the psyche of it all, Moore asks leading, softball questions that make the segment feel like a bit of a letdown.
Another thing that gets in the way of “Where To Invade Next” is Moore himself. By inserting himself into the proceedings, he becomes a figure that removes any and all objectivity from the film. One could argue that that is the point of a documentary, but if Moore is looking to make strong points about the ways in which other countries are doing things better than America, the agenda should, at the very least, be given a back seat to the information.
Moore’s attitude makes it so that his sarcasm comes off as mean-spirited and elitist rather than playful. It’s easy to imagine Moore smirking as he wrote a lame and outdated Dick Cheney joke smack dab in the middle of the film. No surprise, the joke lands with a thunderous thud.
Though the set up is dumb, there’s no question that there is some very interesting footage in “Where To Invade Next.” As one might expect, one sided and in the end, very agenda driven. It would have been nice to see Moore explore whether these things were possible in the United States and if so, how they could be implemented. If the film were merely a look at cultural differences, it would have been an educational, mind-opening slam dunk. Instead, by inserting himself so firmly into the narrative, Moore created an unfunny and uneven documentary that ultimately he can’t save from himself.