When the words “Michael Moore” are uttered to right wing Republican zealots, their eyes glaze over and they lapse into paroxysms of rage and retribution, the equivalent of the burlesque shtick of saying “Niagara Falls” or “The Susquehanna Hat Company.” Moore’s tub-thumping (Capitalism: A Love Story, Fahrenheit 911) left-wing stridency drove conservatives to distraction even though Moore was a mirror image of the right (America: Imagine the World Without Her, 2016: Obama’s America and, yes, Michael Moore Hates America).
Which is why, after a long absence, when Moore returns with a film called Where To Invade Next, the sulfuric smell of left-right Armageddon cannot be too far off. It doesn’t help when Moore intones, “On January 2, I was quietly summoned to meet the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Michael, I don’t know where the fuck we are going. They asked me for my advice. Instead of sending in the marines, send me!” Then over the credits are a nightmarish succession of news clips – the two Bushes, Clinton, Obama, Reagan, foreclosures, “I Can’t Breathe” rallies, Ferguson, unjustly incarcerated prisoners. But Moore offers up the title and opening as sly misdirection. Setting the audience up for a free-for-all, Where To Invade Next is instead is a calm, leisurely tour of Moore’s Europe, more reminiscent of his television show TV Nation than his incendiary features.
The hook is Moore, tongue-in-cheek, ostensibly barreling towards Europe in a boat, holding up an unfurled American flag, journeying to a succession of countries and exploring a positive aspect. Moore, playing devil’s advocate, is the American lout, snidely comparing questionable American solutions and backhandedly promoting these European innovations. Moore tiptoes around the negatives as he visits these countries. He happily acknowledges, “My mission is to pick the flowers. Not the weeds.”
Moore visits Italy and ignoring serious economic problems and Silvio Berlusconi, visits the Ducati company where workers are granted 35 days of paid vacation, two hour lunches, five months paid maternity leave — well paid workers and no filthy rich owners (the chairman of Ducati exclaims, “What’s the point of being richer?”).
Moore is then off on a tour of other European principalities: France (uninhibited sex education in schools and gourmet meals for the kiddies –Moore remarks “You know it’s bad when the French pity you”); Finland (the best educational system in the world with free education, no homework and three hour school days –the Minister of Education comments, “The brain has to relax every now and then”); Slovenia (“a magical fairyland” where college students have no debt); Germany (a worker/owner paradise as seen through the Faber-Castell pencil company and a country that, unlike the United States, acknowledges its evil past history); Portugal (where all drugs are de-criminalized and prisons are rehabilitation centers with no hard labor); Norway (a prison system focusing on individual dignity, not revenge, and where even mass killer Anders Behring Breivik is treated kindly); Tunisia (where women’s rights are upheld by their constitution); and Iceland (where women are powerful presences in corporations and the CEOs involved in the financial collapse of their country were actually imprisoned).
Where To Invade Next is Moore in a breezy, lighthearted mood and his insights into European as opposed to American solutions to problems are frequently hilarious (a particular highlight is Moore trying to convince French grade schoolers to drink Coke instead of their healthy repast). But the tone of urgency which made Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 911 so incendiary is missing. Instead, the film presents itself as a series of pet peeves.
Nevertheless, there is an undercurrent of despair at lost American ideals and abandoned principles in Where To Invade Next. Moore incisively points out that the Tunisian women’s rights movement was based on the struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States. The prosecutor in Iceland who successfully jailed the corrupt CEOs admits to being inspired by similar arrests made in the United States in the 1990s. The prison reforms in Norway were based on the “no cruel or unusual punishment” provision of the U.S. Constitution.
The America depicted in Where To Invade Next is a country that has lost its way, abandoning its ideals for financial greed, power, control. For Moore, the American Dream is alive and well … everywhere except in America.