I went to a screening last night at the Writers Guild Theater of Michael Moore's new documentary, Where to Invade Next. I thought it was absolutely terrific. So did the audience which gave it one of the longest applause I've seen at a Guild screening.
To clarify one thing, despite the title, the film really has little to do with war. Yes, it's one of his points, but largely as a place to jump off from. The focus on war pretty much only comes from the question, rather than get involved in disastrous wars, why not "invade" all these countries in Europe where we could win and take back their best ideas to America. And so, he travels around Europe (and one in North Africa) talking to citizens, public officials, political leaders -- even the sitting-president of a country, and a former president, and others about a variety of programs that are absolutely wonderful and work incredibly well in their countries -- like the education system in Slovenia, the prison system in Norway, women's rights in Tunisia and Iceland, and so on.
Yes, there is criticism in the film about things that aren't working well in the United States, but it's brief (often a cut-away of 10 seconds) compared to what's covered in the rest of this 110-minute film. And in the end, he accomplishes something incredibly tricky – being critical, while being uplifting. And ultimately, even while being very critical, this is easily his most uplifting and positive film. And you don’t leave feeling angry, but with a sense of hope. (I don't want to say more in terms of specifics because so much is surprising, and I don’t want to give things away…)
It's also worth noting there are moments in the film which are just referencing small comments from those Moore comes across that, given the pure chance of what's been in the news the past few weeks, can't help but leap out and be far more impactful that would have been the case otherwise. They aren't remotely polemics, but things almost off-handed and matter-of-fact, but given the realities of timing and context end up making a far-larger point.
If you do see it, stick around to the very end of the credits. There's one brief sequence that adds a lovely coda to the movie.
By the way, in tracking down some details and video for this piece, I came across some blistering slams against the movie. One on YouTube is from a critic on some website -- at first, when I saw the headline about the movie being a "Stinker," I was boggled, so I started to watch the video. When I got to the point about 20 seconds when he refers to the new documentary from "blowhard Michard Moore," I grasped the point -- okay, here's a really objective far-right "movie critic". Honestly, I don't even know if he'd seen the movie. He may have, but if so it was with closed eyes. Because this is really a positive movie about things being done right. And there's a point at the end that drives all of this home is a really love, moving way.
Also, it's hard to imagine that the things Michael Moore does point out as not working well in America at the moment aren't issues that most everyone agrees with, left or right. After all, the whole campaign by Donald Trump, the leading presidential candidate of the Republican Party, is based on the supposed-premise of making America great again. Which acknowledges that there are, indeed, problems. Things not working well. And I suspect that if one went to ask Republicans and those on the far right about if there were things that were broken in America, they'd say absolutely -- and perhaps even point out the same things mentioned in this movie. But when Michael Moore points them out, he's made a "stinker."
But again, to be very clear, this is not a movie "about" criticism. It's there, but the movie is about things that work, things done wonderfully. And it all ties in to the United States in a really lovely, substantive way. Again, not wanting to give things away, I shall say no more.
The move is a bit long, though I only found a short period when it dragged for a few minutes, and then spend on and got involving again. My only real quibble would be that I think the film would have been helped if he noted a bit stronger that these other countries all have problems of them own, and aren't just these wonderful programs. He does reference that once, but it's only once (that I recall) and it's just in passing, almost lip service. It's not the point of the movie, so it's not critical -- after all, his point is to show things that work -- but I think a bit more would have helped.
I also see that there's a bit of a controversy with the movie getting an R-rating, rather than PG-13, which Mr. Moore fought for and was upset that he didn't get. I understand why he's upset. And the movie should be available to audiences under 18 without a parent. (Though, in fairness, a) kids have figured out how to get into R-movies by now, b) though younger audiences can definitely enjoy this, especially since there are long sequences about them, the main audience is largely adults, and c) everyone can see it when it's released on DVD.) But as much as I understand why it's R-rated, that's his own fault. This really isn't a Ratings Board issue. The moment two very brief scenes passed by, my immediate thought -- without knowing yet the film's rating or about the controversy -- was, "Oh, why did you put that in. It's so unnecessary, and it's going to get the movie an R-rating." It's a brief shot of full frontal nudity of a man and woman getting into a sauna, and a naked poster of a woman on a wall. One can argue that they're brief and so incidental. But you just have to know this is going to get you an R-rating. And while they add a more "world sensibility" perhaps to the film, the total time on screen is probably about five seconds and ultimately are pretty meaningless to the movie.
Anyway, again, I thought the movie was wonderful, very unexpected from the title (which is fun after you've seen the movie, but I'm not sure is the best choice...), and funny, thoughtful, fascinating, critical and ultimately very positive. And yes, uplifting.
Actually, my only real complaint about the screening is that Michael Moore was supposed to be there for a Q&A afterwards, but he had to cancel. It's a shame, because I feel pretty comfortable saying that he'd have likely received a standing ovation. That's how loud and long the applause was at the end.
Here's the trailer. It really doesn't do the movie justice because -- like me here not wanting to give any of the surprises away that he comes across -- they don't seem to want to, either. Though you do get a reasonable sense of things.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor