Michael Moore returns to the fold with his first film in over half a decade to prove he hasn't lost his edge as a satirical and insightful documentarian. This is my review of Where to Invade Next.
Michael Moore is one of the most renowned working American documentarians today, with his work on films like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 reaching audiences far and wide throughout the '00s. I actually studied Bowling for Columbine in high school, but that's more or less where my exposure to his work begins and ends, so I entered into Where to Invade Next with a certain degree of curiosity. Known for his inflammatory and controversial approach take on the US government, I was intrigued to see if Moore had mellowed in the intervening years since his most recent film (2009's Capitalism: A Love Story).
Thankfully, he hasn't. Moore's harsh examination of the broken American Dream in this new film is as sharp and funny as ever, and covers a broad spectrum of topics - from healthcare and education to the justice system and war.
Moore does a lot of travelling in this film; his road trip across Europe takes him through Italy, France, Slovenia, Finland and Norway in search of examples of policies and practices that put America to shame. Each country is used as a case study in contrast with the United States; in Italy, Moore visits factories and workplaces to discuss their paid holiday, honeymoons and maternity leave schemes for new mothers. In France, he visits an elementary school to investigate eating habits in the school cafeteria, whilst Norway is used as a template for a productive prison system. Finland, regularly cited amongst the best countries in the world for education, is at the centre of a segment that discusses how to effectively structure the school syllabus.
Each segment is a mini-documentary in itself with a clear purpose, message and conclusions that can be drawn. In typical Michael Moore fashion, each segment is filled with plenty of wry humour and provocative criticism of the US - seriously, why on Earth don't they have paid holiday and maternity leave over there? Isn't that just common sense? All told, it's a very interesting and insightful documentary that really opens your eyes to some of the uglier sides of American culture - particularly the confronting prison system and penalties for recreational drug use, which Moore likens to a reworked form of 21st Century slavery.
His sortie into Germany is particularly thought-provoking; Moore compares Germany's progressive attitude towards acceptance and reeducation in the wake of World War II with America's less impressive selective memory concerning the slave trade or the treatment of Native Americans. Yeah, he doesn't pull any punches, and as usual, his homeland bears the brunt of his assault.
Even though the content is very America-centric, there is a lot for Australian audiences to enjoy. Not only does it inform and educate on European politics and policies (Slovenia is really cool with uni fees - who knew?), but a lot of the points that Moore makes can be applied and appropriated to fit with current debates here in Australia, particularly those concerning college tuition, cultural recognition of past sins and the general cost of living.
Naturally, Moore's one-sided approach that really slaps you across the face won't earn him new fans. Where to Invade Next is relentless in staying on message, almost never pausing to offer anything other than an ironclad portrait of a gleaming European utopia. His liberal vision of a future, greater America won't please everyone and leaves itself open to criticism and backlash from certain sides.
The elongated runtime is also a hinderance; I felt like Moore could've cut one or two case studies out to trip down the length, particularly as the final 30 minutes (that explore Iceland) drag slightly. That's not to say the content is of a lesser quality - just that the film might've been more impactful if it'd been tighter and more focused.
The Verdict: 7.5/10
All things considered, Where to Invade Next is another winning documentary from Michael Moore. It's eye-opening, insightful and often touching, with a strong narrative tying the various segments together. Well worth a watch, even if the end starts to drag a little.
Where to Invade Next is in cinemas across Australia now