Michael Moore reaches for humor in his lacking attempt to undermine the concept of American exceptionalism.
Where to Invade Next
Michael Moore (Bowling For Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11) adapts his brash style of documentary filmmaking to a thin, but well-meaning, takedown of American exceptionalism. In Where to Invade Next, the controversial filmmaker goes east, shooting his entire film outside of the United States despite consistently turning his attentions back home. The righteous indignation that’s fueled most of Moore’s work seems replaced by resigned exasperation. More often, he just seems tired of it all. As a result, the humor that once made the documentarian an engaging avatar for liberal outrage lacks its searing edge in Where to Invade Next.
The film sees Moore “invading” European countries—and an African one—to “claim” their policies on behalf of America. Gathering interviews with former government heads, public service workers, and ordinary citizens, Where to Invade Next provides first-hand accounts on the benefits of altruistic policies. He speaks with Italians who get eight weeks of paid vacation, and shows their smiles fade as he explains that Americans are guaranteed none. He takes a tour of French school cafeterias and gawks at the selection of 80 different cheeses in the school chef’s storage. He examines these baffling disparities between The Rest of The World and Us, but does so on a microscopic level that’s unlikely to sway anyone’s mindset. Moore reaffirms leftist ideologies, hardly adding anything to the conversation.
Where to Invade Next reaches for humor that’s simply not there. Moore is a somewhat awkward improvisationalist. His hit to miss rate is close to 50:50, but watching his interviewees awkwardly smile as he stammers through a half-formed punchline grows draining. Reduced to the dad-joke realm of lines like, “You know it’s bad when the French pity you,” Moore lacks the punchy energy to sell his sarcasm. His unfunny cut-aways to a stable of cows or a clip from Talladega Nights slow down the film’s pace. When the documentarian attempts to play the role of pro-American buffoon, you wish he had the concise witticisms of Comedy Central-era Stephen Colbert. Even the clever juxtaposing of anti-terrorism speeches over video of police brutality seems staid and expected from someone like Moore.
The documentarian’s habit of inserting himself into his films inhibits Where to Invade Next’s message from fully resonating. Opening the doc by recounting a make-believe meeting between Moore and the leaders of the American government, joking that he was, “summoned to the Pentagon,” his sophomoric approach feels reductive—a strange tone to set when your film is meant to promote civic engagement. During interviews he prods his guests in obvious ways, repeating his questions with faux bafflement at the responses. It all serves to personalize Moore’s message, but he doesn’t demonstrate the depth of expertise to act as an authority.
Moore likely has knowledge to make a convincing argument, but it—along with almost any statistical data—is not on display in Where to Invade Next. It’s hard to disagree with Moore’s pro-public good sentiments, but his documentary is hardly putting forth the best argument. As if the filmmaker set out to catalog these crazy cool foreign laws he’s heard so much about, Where to Invade Next often lacks the thoroughness to serve as more than an introduction to civic duty.
Originally published on October 3rd, 2015, as part of our New York Film Festival coverage.