‘Where to Invade Next’ Review

WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (7 out of 10) Written and Directed by and Starring Michael Moore; Running time 119 minutes, Rated R for “language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity”; In limited release February 12, 2016.

‘Where to Invade Next’ might be Michael Moore’s most satirical, funny, serious, timely, and prescient film yet. Except ‘Bowling for Columbine’ was pretty satirical and funny. ‘Sicko’ was pretty serious. ‘Roger and Me’ seems pretty prescient given what has happened to Flint, MI over the past two decades, and past several years.

It’s unfortunate that this film is overshadowed by Moore’s other works– if this had been done by anyone but a handful of documentary filmmakers, it would be hailed as brilliant. But largely because Moore’s signature style of inserting himself into his films, this thoughtful look at the ways America falls behind other nations is overshadowed by his boisterous “ugly American” persona he adopts as he “invades” other countries and plants an American flag there.

The message of the film, if you can look past that, is brilliant.  The collection of interviews he weaves together into a cohesive narrative is masterful. 

The premise of the film, however, is ridiculous. Michael Moore will singlehandedly invade other countries and bring what they have that we don’t back to America. But instead of oil, he’s looking at paid vacation in Italy, school lunches in France, education in Finland and Slovenia, banking regulation in Iceland, and a big dollop of feminism from everywhere, including surprising places like Tunisia.

When Moore isn’t acting like a dolt, the film is amazing. And Moore is obviously hamming it up for the camera and his “story,” but it wears thin. You can tell he’s exaggerating, as when he actually meets with heads of state, CEOs, etc, he tones it down. Halfway through the film, though, you’ll wish he’d just dispense with the pretense, and stop awkwardly planting that damn flag in peoples’ living rooms, offices, etc.

This is likely completely intentional, as Moore is probably winking at those in the audience who know how damaging colonialism has been for the world in general, and for the “American Empire.” By couching things in faux colonialism, it exposes just how ugly our history and the history of the Western world, has been.

It’s just as presumptuous for Moore to plant his flag in a Norwegian prison to claim it as “ours” as it was for those who landed on Plymouth Rock or Jamestown. There’s also no small irony, as Moore notes in both the trailer and the wrapup to the film, that most of what he’s doing is re-claiming ideas that we, as Americans, invented or innovated, and then exported to the rest of the world. And now that the American Dream is thriving everywhere but America, perhaps it’s time to reclaim our birthright? Liberty and justice for all? No cruel and unusual punishment? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Let’s bring it back.

Still, as poignant as he may have tried to be, it got annoying and the film’s central conceit is lost in American-style, Trump-esque bluster.

Both in the politics of the right and left in America today, something is brewing. Whether you support Trump, Sanders, or someone in between, people are upset and they know something is wrong with America. “Make America Great Again.” “Feel the Bern.” “I’m With Her” All camps have felt this awakening, and maybe now is the time to do something about it. Moore reminds us just how simple it would be to have those things that exist in many other countries. 

However, like any good piece of agitprop, the film never looks at the other side of the argument. Regardless, your xenophobic uncle or the people on “Fox and Friends” will give you that argument anyway. 

The film starts to get outright depressing after the weight of all of these problems hit you: despite living in a pretty amazing place, America is not the shining city on a hill it should be, or could be. Just as this realization crests, like a tidal wave about to hit the shore, Moore brings it back to a funny, optimistic place. The film ends on an aspirational note, and could be seen as an endorsement of either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. If you’re team #FeelTheBern, you’ll remember it’s not so radical to do the things Sanders proposes, as they exist virtually everywhere else.

All in all, this is a Michael Moore documentary. Not his best, but one that does speak to our specific issues in 2016. One almost wishes there was a 15 minute epilogue of Moore exploring what has happened in his hometown of Flint, and why it is that in dozens of communities across the US in the last 5 years, residents can’t drink the water because of pollution– largely coming from fossil fuels, their extraction and waste products. Save it for the sequel: We Don’t Need No Water, Let the Mother@#$%er Burn.

Hopefully we do not need to wait another six years for the next film, the way we have between this and “Capitalism: A Love Story.”

7 out of 10