WCBE

Where to Invade Next

Feb 11, 2016

Its posters claim this doc a "comedy." It's actually the bad boy's most sober look at our culture since I can remember.

Where to Invade Next

Grade: B

Director: Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 50 min

by John DeSando

The enfant terrible of American documentaries, Michael Moore, has regularly savaged American industry and culture from General Motors to McDonald’s for their excesses. His newest diatribe, Where to Invade Next, is his best, clearest, and least strident of all.

Moore takes exception to American exceptionalism as he visits countries that have adopted our cultural values and actually implemented them when we have seemed to forsake them. For instance, in education, Finland has reduced homework, adopted shorter school days, and has no private schools—all to allow for the fuller development of the child’s personality in areas such as sports and the arts, or good old socializing with family and friends.

In politics, Moore judiciously chooses popular uprisings (not Syria, for instance) that have succeeded to oust tyrants and establish democracies or at least regimes that attend to the people's needs. For Slovenia, he points out the student uprising that blocked a decision to impose tuition rates.

More interestingly is the rise of women to influence those new worlds. It's in this gender universe that Moore does his best work. He features the one bank in Iceland run by women that survived Iceland’s devastating recession.  The other two failures could be ascribed to male testosterone-fueled risk taking. BTW, Iceland also elected the first female president in the world.

In the end, Moore himself is flawed with his own case of cinematic testosterone excess, this time going after America's lack of moral certitude and especially its self-defeating penchant for individualism over communalism. At the same time he paints those virtuous countries with Technicolor fields and houses (Nuremburg looks like a movie set from the air with red roofs and immaculate streets) central-casting beautiful people, and no negative vibes. In Norway he doesn’t challenge a prisoner’s plush life despite the prisoner’s murder conviction.  No flaws are apparent, but then Moore never claimed the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Per usual, Moore is as unbalanced as his wardrobe, adorned with his signature army jacket, scruffy hair, and obesity. Yet this time, he seems less self-aggrandizing and more interested in America's reclaiming its principles.  He still stacks the deck in favor of his thesis, no matter how benign he seems to be.

He’s heavy-handed and biased, just a bad-boy having fun with his camera. Ending with The Wizard of Oz advice that Dorothy always had the power to return to Kansas, Moore reminds me how really tied to Hollywood fantasy he reluctantly is. The European fiscal crisis? Mon Dieu, it never appears in this doc.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com