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WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (2015) review

February 13, 2016

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produced by:  Carl Deal, Tia Lessin and Michael Moore
directed by: Michael Moore
rated: R (for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity)
runtime: 110 min.
U.S. release date: December 23, 2015 (NY/LA) & February 12, 2016 (limited)

 

Who’s afraid of question marks? Movie studios are apparently. The title of Michael Moore’s new documentary is a question, yet it has no question mark. Is it a question then? Does a simple, innocent question mark annoy people that much? Does it not translate well in foreign markets? For every “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” and “Dude, Where’s My Car?” there’s a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, a “How Do You Know” and now a “Where to Invade Next”. Well, Mr. Moore, we can’t answer your sarcastic question unless you use proper grammar.

Pardon me for picking nits, but I think we can all admit the first aspect of a movie that we acknowledge is it’s title and if it doesn’t work for some reason, then we have a problem. There are, of course, more real problems that Michael Moore is addressing in what is obviously the most political documentary the liberal filmmaker from Flint, Michigan has made yet.

 

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The last doc that I saw from Moore was “Sicko”, which investigated health care in the United States. I remember liking it. It had his typical perspective, his front-and-center presence was felt and he touched some sadly troubling issues with irony and humor. I totally forgot about 2009’s  “Capitalism: A Love Story” a doc that didn’t quite match the success of his other projects, like, “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Nevertheless, the director hasn’t lost his passion for sermonizing and satirizing what he considers to be gross American injustices.

The tone of “Where to Invade Next” (see, doesn’t it look off without a questions mark?) is light yet it brings up some sobering, frustrating and often depressing indictments on the American way of life, as Moore jaunts around the world in an effort to provide viewers with examples of functional governments and social systems – because the United States doesn’t work. It’s no surprise which countries he points to (here’s to you: Finland, Italy, France and Portugal) or what specifically about America that is criticized – out public educational system sucks, we treat prisoners inhumanely, we bail corrupt big bankers hands instead of treat them like criminals and we have a work ethic that doesn’t serve the well-being of workers.

Based on the title alone, one would think the main criticism Moore has is America’s tendency to invade other countries and take on the role of World Police. Not quite. While he does touch on how much we as a country pride ourselves on our military and have a proclivity toward war, his main goal is to visit other countries – or “invade” them as he puts it – out discover how certain countries succeed where America fails and return to the U.S. with the goal of implementing those processes. Sounds kind of silly actually and Moore knows it – but he does shed light on some fascinating ways of life.

In Moore’s travels, we see where other country’s priorities and values focus on essentials such as quality education, affordable healthcare and a quality of life for employees. With an American flag in tow, ironically waving his smug-yet-earnest sense of humor, Moore is intent on understanding how certain cultures are able to comparatively manage low crime and poverty stats, as well as government control – and foster a relatively peaceful environment.

 

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It’s hard to not get depressed at the differences between what other countries offers their citizens and what is available to us in the States. Moore has a certain vision of utopia in mind and he sets out to see if that exists anywhere (even though we know he knows it doesn’t), which is the purpose of this Euro Trip. The only thing is that Moore shows all the pros and none of the cons of life in the countries he chooses to visit – because that’s not on his itinerary.

Would I like to live in Italy? Sure. Not just for the months of paid vacation to de-stress myself, but also for the history, culture and geography. Moore points out these benefits – along with a generous maternity leave package – but hardly looks at Italy’s history of corrupt characters that’ve held government offices (we’re alike in that area).  Admittedly, many of the companies he visits in Italy seem idyllic (two-hour lunch breaks!) and that’s why he chose them. So, like many of his documentaries, we never get a true flipside of his agenda and everybody likes Moore or at least tolerate him. The only time we see folks rolling their eyes at Moore is when he encounters children. In a truly Moore moment, we watch as a French elementary school student refuses a soda offered by Moore – to prove that the kids there are content with water as they take in their chef-prepared gourmet meals at school. Okay, Michael. We get it. Stop torturing the children. It’s in France where he perpetuates American stereotypes by telling the school’s chef that he hasn’t truly lived until he’s eaten a Burger King Whopper and he even asks where the French fries are not the menu. I was embarrassed for him.

And then there’s Slovenia – they have free college! That means no college debt, resulting in not only peace of mind, but an overall stable atmosphere. It’s saddening, yet understandable that such an offer has lured American students to travel to Slovenia for school, which is where Moore interviews them. How about this – in Finland, there’s a ban on homework (don’t tell my daughter!), where those in charge of education show more of an interest in quality of life instead of overwhelming growing minds. The goal is to get kids more involved socially, grasp a greater understanding of the world and the rewards of making an impact in their community. Are we Finnish yet? This would never go over in America. We’d rather exasperate our children.

All of this information is met with a reaction of shock and awe from Moore, much like his response to the way other countries handled healthcare in “Sicko”. For anyone who’s seen his documentaries in the past, Moore’s aghast reaction is expected, driving an obvious point (or points) in a smug, irate or astonished demeanor. The prison system in Norway looks like a vacation getaway. Prisoners have keys to their own rooms (notice I didn’t use the word “cell”). Honestly, showing all these great implementations just made me depressed though.Could America use some improvements? Of course. Definitely. That’s obvious and so is Moore’s heavy-handed approach during his whirlwind tour. One gets the idea that Moore wouldn’t take too kindly to any editing suggestions of his movies.

“Where to Invade Next” takes a unusual and welcome change in tone in its third act, when it arrives on the not-so-subtle summation that we’d all be better off with female world leaders – something I can agree on. After all, women are smarter, more level-headed, compassionate and less prone to war. Moore could’ve easily just focused on this concept for an entire documentary.

One Icelandic CEO he interviews states she wouldn’t live in America if she was paid to – she feels no one cares about how their neighbors are living in the States. That’s kind of an over-generalization. Surely that’s not every American, but based on what is written about the U.S. and what the media covers, I can see how she sees the American way of life is selfish and every man for himself. There’s a moment where a Tunisian women points out how uneducated Americans are (duh) and then invites us to visit – insult and an open invite. I guess we deserve that. It seems kind of redundant though, because we all know how we’re perceived outside the U.S, Michael.

By now, Michael Moore’s schtick is a well-oiled Midwest min-van of docutainment and that’s just fine because his movies are often quite both enraging and entertaining. “Where to Invade Next” is a bit too all over the place. It presents some great ways of life and even tries to wrap it up nicely by stating that so many of what he’s shown us first came from American ideas – really, Michael? We’ve just lost our way for the sake of a buck a long time ago.  I hope next time, Moore focuses more on palpable solutions to take back home, instead of throwing overwhelming us and offering no answers. Then again, this movie’s title isn’t a question.

 

 

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RATING: **1/2

 

 

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