'Where to Invade Next'
After taking six years off following the fairly underwhelming ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’, Michael Moore is finally back with his latest cinematic political essay. Unfortunately, some of the rust built up from that time off is very much apparent.
This certainly isn’t Moore’s tightest or finest effort. Yet, in his typical rambling, amicable way, the director has delivered a thoroughly enjoyable little politicized romp. Sure, it’ll only really resonate with his fan base, but let’s be honest, that’s all that was ever going to happen anyway.
The title might make it sound like Moore’s latest target is the American war machine, but that’s a deliberate misdirect (although there is a little bit of that here). Instead, it’s a globe-hopping doc in which Moore visits various countries to explore systems and ideas that America could benefit from adopting. At first, the segments are light and frothy, like a peek into the eight weeks of paid vacation offered in Italy or the gourmet multi-course lunches that are part of the French school system. Then they get a little more serious, like Slovenia’s free college education, Portugal’s decriminalized drug policy, Norway’s human prison system, and Iceland’s commitment to increased leadership roles for women. The images are jarring and the results speak for themselves. As usual, Moore approaches it all playfully (planting down an American flag to claim the ideas that he likes), but the purpose is serious.
Moore’s patented montages of archival footage make an appearance, as do his stinging rants about such topics as the systematic abuse of prisoners in the U.S. and the absurdity of denying women equal power in society. The segments can be hit-or-miss and the overall intent can often feel a bit muddled. That’s pretty common in Moore’s movies, but feels particularly distracting here. The movie doesn’t have as cohesive or focused a thesis as his best work, ultimately hinging on the loose theme of, “Hey, other cultures can make this stuff work. Why not us?” It feels like a flimsy movie concept for Moore to hang all the issues he’s been dying to discuss for the last six years on. It feels both stretched-out as a whole and too truncated in the individual segments.
‘Where to Invade Next’ likely would have been a more successful TV or web series, where Moore could have examined each issue and country in more detail without worrying about how to dovetail them together into two hours. This definitely isn’t the filmmaker’s most effective film. However, it is amusing and enlightening, which is really all he’s going for. The doc works for what it is and at least shows that Moore is ready to get back in the saddle again. The guy likely has at least one more great film left in him, so it’s good to see that he’s still sharp. Hopefully he’ll stumble onto a more complicated and focused idea soon.