It isn’t a controversial statement to say that Michael Moore is a controversial filmmaker. Love him or hate him, though, it’s hard to deny that the man has a passion for his work and for the home country he so often criticizes in the hopes that his contribution will make it a better place. However, even people who agree with his political leanings, myself included, can find his antics and particular cinematic style to be self-congratulatory and a bit alienating to those who need the most convincing. Where to Invade Next is a clever title for a film that is primarily about “invading” social and economic policies of other developed countries in Europe and (gasp) Africa, but Moore still his obnoxious self at the end of the day, so whether you enjoy this documentary and fully absorb its educational contents will depend largely on how much you like, or even can simply tolerate, Michael’s shenanigans.
Moore makes a travelogue of adventures to countries such as Italy, France, Finland, Germany, Tunisia, and Iceland to name a few, seeking to learn what he can about their successes in worker’s rights, publicly funded education, prisoners’ rights, women’s rights, and other metrics by which various countries excel compared to the United States, the self-proclaimed greatest country in the world. Moore brings up good points about how the U.S. does not like to acknowledge the problematic aspects of its heritage, and how we are a people more focused on individualistic advancement than on community benefit and compassion, and he makes a compelling case that, even if the United States doesn’t adopt the exact models of these studied nations, the path we persist on traveling can only result in negative consequences.
However, Moore is true to form in being a documentarian more concerned with spectacle than responsibility. He gained his claim to fame by making popular documentaries that sensationalized his subject matter and delivered a pointed and opinionated perspective, which works primarily to rally those who already believe in what you’re saying. What Moore fails to do, in other documentaries as well as in this one, is defend against counterarguments in any way that doesn’t outright dismiss them, if he even deigns to acknowledge that a counterargument exists at all. There are likely logistical and cultural reasons why many foreign social policies wouldn’t translate one-to-one if transplanted to the U.S., but Moore isn’t interested in that. Instead, he’d rather put himself in front of the camera, putting on a hackneyed shtick about how he’s learning right along with us how much better these other countries have it; that’s a level of naiveté he should really know better than to assume of his audience.
As Moore himself says in an early voiceover, he’s “only interested in picking the flowers, not picking the weeds.” Unfortunately, Mr. Moore, if you plan to be honest with your audience, you have to show them the negative aspects of the policies you advocate, otherwise you are selling saccharine half-truths just as much as the politicians you rally against. Where to Invade Next is far from unengaging, and is rather educational when you get right down to it. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the man behind (and in front of) the camera has an agenda, and whether you agree with that agenda or not, reporting all the relevant facts is his responsibility as a documentarian. If you’re Moore’s kind of liberal, prepare to have your opinions validated. If you aren’t, then I highly doubt this film will convince you otherwise, which is a shame. I really wish it could have.