Where to Invade Next

Review by Emma Simmonds @EmmaSimmonds

Directed by

Michael Moore

Starring

Krista Kiuru Michael Moore Tim Walker

Anticipation.

Capitalism: A Love Story lacked the impact of Moore’s previous efforts.

Enjoyment.

Relevant, cogent and funny.

In Retrospect.

A shade too scattershot to stick.

Michael Moore embarks on a globetrotting cultural gleaning tour in this entertaining pop doc.

“I’ve turned into this crazy optimist,” confesses inexhaustible rabble-rouser Michael Moore, nearing the end of his latest righteous quest. Despite the characteristically provocative title, the new film from the daddy of modern populist documentary is not about the business of war, rather it sees the globe-trotting American staging a series of mock invasions of countries where things actually work. He’s after their ideas and he’s not going home empty handed.

Where to Invade Next largely focuses on the success stories of Europe, with the UK – whose NHS came in for praise in 2007’s Sicko – a notable omission this time around. The filmmaker lauds the generous holiday and maternity leave of Italy, the mouth-watering school lunches of France, the compassionate attitude towards work-related stress of Germany, the decriminalisation of drugs in Portugal, the rehabilitation-based penal system of Norway (where we’re told the recidivism rate is 20 per cent, compared to the US where it is 80 per cent), the gender equality of Iceland, and more.

His interviewees are cheerful and well-adjusted, if sometimes borderline smug. They are happy to play along with the premise and reserve their harshest words for the behaviour of the US itself. This upbeat effort feels a long way from Moore’s bitterly personal 1989 film Roger & Me, or 2002’s passionately polemical Bowling for Columbine. By focusing on the solutions rather than expounding on America’s problems, Moore creates an emotional distance, one which facilitates the film’s positive “look what’s possible!” message. It does, however, mean that this personable filmmaker is functioning at a remove.

The approach of cherry-picking the good but ignoring the bad also means that Where to Invade Next sometimes feels like a series of chipper advertisements for foreign climes. Fortunately, our guide’s knowing, curmudgeonly persona acts as a counterweight to stop it soaring away, while there is mention that the benefits featured haven’t come easily and that they remain precarious.

It’s snappily edited and Moore’s shtick is, as ever, entertaining and persuasive. With the threat of a Trump White House looming large, this list of tried and tested fixes to America’s ills couldn’t have come at a better time. His primary objective is undoubtedly to persuade his countrymen to embrace radical, life-enhancing and humane reforms rather than, say, putting themselves at the mercy of a scaremongering loon. The film is, however, released in the UK a mere fortnight before the nation heads to the polls for an EU referendum, and provides a compelling argument for continuing to align ourselves with those who have apparently nailed their pursuit of happiness.

The film ironically sneers at and stereotypes its subjects, making the usual gags about French people all being cowards and Germans all bores. It then shows us who is really laughing by laying out their smart solutions and superior quality of life. The slightly odd invasion conceit and unwieldy range of issues covered means it’s not quite vintage Moore, but Where to Invade Next spins a wealth of inspiring, actionable ideas into a rousing and – crucially – accessible call for change.

Published 9 Jun 2016

Tags: Michael Moore

Anticipation.

Capitalism: A Love Story lacked the impact of Moore’s previous efforts.

Enjoyment.

Relevant, cogent and funny.

In Retrospect.

A shade too scattershot to stick.

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