Mark Reviews Movies

Where to Invade Next


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Michael Moore

MPAA Rating: R (for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity)

Running Time: 1:59

Release Date: 12/23/15 (limited); 2/12/16 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 12, 2016

As a filmmaker, Michael Moore is at his best when he is—or at least does a good job appearing to be—confounded by a problem. He's vital as a provocateur because he can actively question and probe an issue, and he lets us in on that process. Yes, he has a certain worldview that leads him toward one conclusion or another, and perhaps his success as both a filmmaker and a provocateur does really depend on whether or not a person agrees with that perspective.

The central point of Moore's best films is to ask, "What are we going to do about these things?" Where to Invade Next finds Moore at his most certain, and it's not a mode that suits him. The point here is to ask, "Why aren't we doing these things?"

It's a distinct shift in his method. Instead of exploring an open-ended question, Moore provides us with a loaded one. This isn't about finding the answers. This is about Moore serving up his answers to us on a silver platter. This time, he doesn't treat the audience as participants in an intellectual exercise or a political discussion. He's offering a lecture.

Moore has been accused of many things: dishonest interview tactics, manipulative editing of events, and, for some reason, pushing an agenda (That last one is particularly confusing, since he has never been silent about his political slant). Those criticisms don't apply here, because Moore encounters no pushback to his goal. His interviews can't be dishonest, because everyone who is interviewed clearly likes him and vice versa. There can't be manipulative editing tricks, because there are no conclusions to which Moore needs to jump. As for pushing an agenda, he's pretty clear about it: The United States has a lot of problems, and these are the things we can/need to do to solve them.

The premise is clever. Moore imagines a scenario in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff, realizing and frustrated with the thought that the United States hasn't had a definitive victory since World War II, have had enough of war. They invite the filmmaker to Washington, D.C., to come up with a plan for victory.

Moore, of course, doesn't care about war, either with a specific nation or with an abstract concept. Instead, he declares that he will "invade" and "conquer" various European countries, and with those "victories," he will take a single political policy or domestic program back to the U.S.

Once again, Moore's approach is scattershot. The director travels to nine countries to interview people as diverse as workers, teachers, police officers, government officials, and CEOs (He jokes that his trip to Italy is the first time the chief executive of a company has allowed him on the manufacturing floor). The structure of his European vacation eventually reveals itself to be assembling a cradle-to-grave plan for better living, although, if that's the case, it makes it a little disconcerting that the topic he addresses for adulthood has to do with prison conditions.

For babies, Moore eventually champions the notion of paid maternity and paternity leave for parents, after going on for a while about how much vacation time workers in Italy receive from their employers, who are quite happy to see their employees content on the job. For children, it's a solid school lunch program, which he sees in France, where students get a four-course meal every day while learning about proper etiquette and socializing with their friends. In Slovenia, Moore finds that college education is available to all without the need for a debilitating student loan. From Germany, he takes the idea of owning up to a nation's past sins, and yes, as noble as that concept is, it is as poorly incorporated into the overarching concept of the movie as it sounds.

What Moore doesn't care about is how such programs and policies would be implemented in the United States. He offers a revealing chart, comparing the amount of taxes paid by these countries with the taxes paid by the American people and the cost of services that need to be acquired by other, non-governmental means.

That's the end of it, though, and he certainly doesn't address that, in certain cases, those other services have become booming private industries unto themselves. Moore is giving us a pipe dream, and he either doesn't care or doesn't want to acknowledge that the pipes are clogged. How do we clear them? Well, maybe that's for another movie, although a trip to Iceland to speak to Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first woman to be elected president of a European country, and a montage of strong women certainly have Moore offering a winking campaign endorsement for a certain presidential candidate.

Something simply is off here. Moore's humor feels forced. He insists on holding our hand through his argument, and even still, it feels incomplete and unfocused. Maybe the filmmaker has grown complacent after almost a decade of things moving politically in a direction he likes. Whatever the case, Moore's usual fire is missing from Where to Invade Next, and it has been replaced with an attitude that is more smug than inquisitive.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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