Friday, August 19, 2016

Michael Moore is as old as his shtick

We watched Where to Invade Next on Thursday night, which was probably not really necessary in terms of Michael Moore completism. I'm not a Michael Moore completist, having missed Capitalism: A Love Story (although I did recently watch Canadian Bacon, the move of a Michael Moore completist if ever there was one). Even back then, in 2009, I knew I was tired of the way Moore was conveying his message (though not the message itself, with which I agree), and I just never prioritized seeing Capitalism.

For some reason, Where to Invade Next inspired me with more hope. Not because the trailers made it look particularly different or more interesting than his other movies -- in fact, it looked pretty much exactly like his other movies -- but because when Moore stopped making films, I noticed his absence. It kind of felt like a vital liberal voice had been snuffed from the political entertainment landscape, and I didn't want that to be viewed as a victory by his opponents.

Besides, it was the 99 cent rental on iTunes a few weeks ago, and I'll see anything for 99 cents.

Unfortunately, Where to Invade Next is easily Moore's least interesting film. Even while being very much the same as the others.

I guess it could be that he's lost the bite from his commentary in an age when Obama is president and he doesn't really have anything bad to say about him. Or rather, he probably has plenty bad he'd like to say, but he's not the type of liberal who will cut off his nose to spite his face. He sees the big picture, which is that the country is heading in the right direction in terms of who's in charge of it.

But really, I just felt like I'd seen all this before. In fact, I'd seen Michael Moore himself telling me all this before.

The premise of this movie is not military, actually. There's a bit of commentary at the start about how the U.S. has been in a non-stop series of conflicts dating back, oh, pretty much to World War II. But that's just the jumping off point. The "invading" Moore talks about here is not a scathing look inside how the U.S. decides the next fight it plans to pick. It's actually an invasion of friendly nations to take their best social ideas.

The primary symbol of this "invasion" is Moore carrying around an American flag, planting it in various places like the living room of Italians who enjoy their eight weeks of paid vacation, or a Slovenian university where tuition is free.


Same old Michael Moore. Same old shtick.

Emphasis on the word "old."

I noticed for the first time in this movie how old Michael Moore is really looking. He's 62, so it should not be such a surprise. But it's not just his chicken neck and general sense of sagginess. It's that the stuff he's doing seems so old -- so old-fashioned, and so tired.

One technique Moore has always used is to ask dumb questions. He's big on pretending he doesn't know the answer to a question and asking it in a way that sets up the interview subject to make his point for him. Like asking university students about their debt, knowing that they do not actually have debt. Like asking a Norwegian prisoner in an open prison plan how many times he's been raped in the shower. Like asking police officers where their guns are.

I get what Moore is doing, but my God has he done this so many times before. One of my favorite Moore films is actually Sicko, which is only two films ago for him. This movie is essentially like Sicko all over again, except focusing on things other than just healthcare.

And don't get me wrong, there are some interesting things in it. But we know by now that places in Europe have radically different approaches to work, to healthcare, to life, to school, to taxes than we do in the U.S. Michael Moore himself has told us this over and over again. Some of those approaches are probably applicable to the U.S. Some are not. And Moore conveniently overlooks the things that are not working particularly well in those countries. My wife characterized it best when she referred to it as "cherry-picking."

For the first time in his career, Moore seems to be merely engaged in shaming, rather than suggesting real solutions and alternatives. Does he really think a movie like this is going to allow the U.S. to institute three-hour school days and no homework (an approach that supposedly works wonders in Finland) and eight weeks a year of paid leave? At this point it just seems like a gratuitous nose-rubbing of all the ways America is broken.

And because he recognizes how to structure a narrative (though not how to cut 30 minutes out of a two-hour movie), Moore finishes up with a "happy ending." He acknowledges that many of the practices successfully put in place in far-flung areas of the world originated with American concepts that have fallen by the wayside. But honestly, this ending seems disingenuous.

I welcome Michael Moore back to the arena, I suppose. But just because you're old doesn't mean you can't learn new tricks. If Moore makes another movie and it's evident he hasn't learned any, I won't be watching it.

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