Where to Invade Next (2015)

(On Cable TV, September 2016) Film essayist Michael Moore will forever be linked to his biggest success Fahrenheit 9/11, so it’s fair to wonder if he has peaked both in creative success and in influence. After a few strong years in which he delivered a string of films highly critical of the Bush administration, Moore seemingly retreated from high-profile filmmaking in the 2010s and Where to Invade Next is his first documentary in six years. It doesn’t feel like it’s breaking new ground: Annoyingly structured around the conceit of invading other countries to steal their ideas, the film seemingly reprises elements of Sicko and other films by showing Moore being amazed by how other countries manage to hold their own even when they’re not following the American template. (The most obvious suspects, such as Canada and the UK, are thankfully exempt from his invasions.) It doesn’t help that Moore’s faux-naif shtick blatantly cherry-picks and misrepresents what’s going on in other countries. (For instance, claiming a thirteenth pay for holidays when it’s really an artifact of being paid every four weeks rather than monthly: I wonder if Moore knows people who get paid—gasp—once every two weeks and what they can do with those extra two paychecks per year!) Still, grandstanding annoyances aside, Where to Invade Next is at its best when it manages to honestly show that the American model is imperfect, and that other perfectly workable ways to live exist. The last half of the film is more interesting in how it piles up the absurdities of American society and shows that it doesn’t have to be this way, that there are no natural laws dictating a lack of paid holidays, drug criminalization, harsh prisons, militarized police forces and business-focused education. By the time Moore shows how radical change can happen seemingly overnight, or how America’s best ideas are not necessarily welcome in America, Where to Invade Next has revitalized itself, away from disingenuous claims and toward a convincing argument to question the unacceptable flaws of American society. As for relevance, well: Moore may never be as vital to the national discourse as he was back in the Bush administration, but as long as American society has flaws, he’s going to be there pointing them out.

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