Michael Moore’s documentary style can feel off-putting. The documentarian makes himself a central, bold character in his films. Throughout, he flashes his humor and political biases. At times, this tones down or distracts from the seriousness of the subject matter. Moore’s latest piece “Where to Invade Next” also distances itself from typical documentary fare because of its ambition in covering a vast array of social and political issues across the globe. The range of issues is diverse but Moore tries to connect them back to flaws in the American system. In this sense, it is similar to many of his past documentaries–especially “Sicko,” which captured healthcare in many other countries through an American lens.
“Where to Invade Next,” in theaters now, explores America’s social, economic and political structures through Moore’s travels to countries with progressive social welfare programs and greater gender equality on a professional scale. In Finland, Moore encounters the education system, which promotes free time for students over copious amounts of homework. In France, the film flaunts healthy, high quality public school lunches that teach kids about eating a balanced, mannerly meal. “Where to Invade Next” mixes interviews with graphs to convey its messages. The film poignantly touches on the America’s flaws, whilst it expresses hope for the future. Despite Moore’s cynical disposition, the movie is wonderfully optimistic.
Though only about two hours, the movie feels long. This is largely because the film could be a TV show. Maybe it would be better as a TV show. Each country and the one or two issues presented can stand alone in one piece. The transitions from country to country work well, but could still easily be broken apart. Specific topics are vaguely clustered together under larger umbrella topics of education, worker’s rights and feminism. But, even then, the film strays from maintaining a concrete structure. Thus, there’s barely a climax. The high point of the film depends on the viewer’s individual idea of the most pressing, compelling issue. Therefore, the tension of the film neither increases nor depreciates based on content. The tone falters when the viewer gets restless from the repetitive pacing. The style may get repetitive, but the film’s issues manage to never repeat themselves. Every country’s arguments deserve to be have a spotlight on them. So, one can understand why the filmmakers would struggle to edit the film down.
The documentary blatantly advocates for women in politics. Feminist focuses on women’s health care and female leadership are treated with such care that they seem to be a political endorsement during this election year. Moore’s timing with the film is perfect given the landscape of the current election. Some of the movie’s best moments come from an interview subject speaking directly to the camera, with Moore off to the side. One such moment comes as a Finnish female bank executive lays out the necessity for at least three women for representation. One woman is a token and two are a minority. The film interviews three women together to explain why women make great financial leaders. In this scene, “Where to Invade Next” meets the minimum requirements as far as providing evidence goes. It continues with this theme throughout.
“Where to Invade Next” is full of holes as Moore presents his heavily-biased opinions and the facts that corroborate them. Like many Moore films, there is a strong tendency towards liberalism. Though most of the programs depicted are funded by taxpayer money, the documentary takes only a few minutes to explain how this works and why it’s worth it. For this reason, the film narrows its audience. It doesn’t even attempt to convince its viewers to agree with its proposals. Due to the lack of showing both sides of the arguments and Moore’s gruff, headstrong (at worst superior) character, the film primarily targets a liberal, younger demographic that would already agree with most of the film’s messages.
Most of the featured countries are in Europe. This allows Moore to more easily make his arguments, but it also detracts from his overall message that “the rest of the world is ahead of America.” Women are political leaders in countries across the globe, but Moore honed in on Finland and interviewed a group of white women. The problem with the breadth-over-depth approach that Moore takes reveals itself in the information that the movie largely ignores. “Where to Invade Next” seemingly assumes prototypes of women, middle class and people of color. It ignores how conditions change when identities overlap.
With that said, the film approaches America’s hot topics like racism, classism and sexism in a light, enjoyable way. This may sound tasteless, but the movie demonstrates the balancing act between a positive tone and justice to the issues with grace. The film wisely acknowledges that all of the issues it depicts (public schools, prison systems, adjudication of white collar crimes, etc.) take root in systems of oppression. The film also points out America’s hesitancy to admit its faults.
Not to worry, Moore fans the ego of American pride to finish off the film. Moore argues that he criticizes the country out of love. This makes for a somewhat cheesy ending that would play better to cap off a TV series than a movie. The ending is quiet and forgettable. But, like the rest of the film’s structure, it performs its function. This international portrait of a socialist utopia offers entertainment and revelations. The documentary suffers for its ambition. What the movie does uncover, however, is thought-provoking. Snarky, smart 21st century socialist propaganda: this film is candy for millennials.