Where to Invade Next

Year: 2015
Production Co: Dog Eat Dog Films
Director: Michael Moore
Writer: Michael Moore
Cast: Michael Moore

Like all Michael Moore's films the central conceit is a stunt, but it succeeds for the same reason all his other films have – he's right, and the stunt has a point.

The stunt this time is that he's going to invade other countries for their great ideas and take them back to America. After a series of 15 or 20 minute segments/chapters in which he interviews people about the issue at hand he asks – with tongue in cheek – if he can plant an American flag and claim their country because their system works better than it does in the corresponding social landscape back home.

In Italy it's about the amount of paid leave workers get and the support the government provides for it. In Iceland it's about putting women in leadership positions and properly punishing the cowboy approach to finance that bankrupted the country during the GFC. In Portugal it's about drug policy. In France it's about sex education and government-provided school lunches (that rival what you'd get in most fine restaurants in the US).

In Tunisia, it's reproductive rights. In Slovenia it's free tertiary education. In Norway it's the humane prison system – providing one of the film's most profound ideas, when Moore ruminates about what can be achieved in society when incarcerating criminals is based on 'rehabilitation instead of revenge'.

There's a spoiler at the end of his adventures I won't reveal that gives the stunt all its impact and bring the whole idea to a beautiful conclusion, and he wanders along the site of the former Berlin Wall with a friend marvelling at how – if people really want them to – big things actually can change.

Like he always does (and is frequently criticised for), Moore gives a decidedly rosy view of plenty of the countries he's showcasing. It's hard to forget how he portrayed the British National Health system as a bastion of social progress in one of his films (because they had a cashier counter that pays you when you get out of hospital rather than the other way round), glossing over how crippled and inefficient it is.

But like all the grandstanding politicians he's always lampooning, Moore is never talking about details, he's talking about the principles. As many economic problems as Italy has, it's easy to believe its people are happier because they get more time off work to live their lives.

Because France is just as Americanised as the rest of the world, it's correspondingly hard to believe a table full of schoolkids being served healthy, three-course feasts by top-rated chefs have never tried Coca Cola – the gag being that they never have to drink such rubbish because there's so much better on offer for free.

But because France is more progressive than America, he's making the point that school kids there get high quality and free school lunches, something you can't imagine in any US public school system.

But as he and his subjects talk, he manages his other very-practised trick. He makes you wonder if the 'news' is just more elitist propaganda, that wisdom about Italy's inefficient economy or the UK's crippled and lumbering health system is just the reflected opinions of rich corporations who can't get richer there, the people in everyday society in those countries are actually doing fine.

A glance at those national happiness indexes (which usually put the US down the bottom with the all the war-torn African and Middle Eastern nations while all the Scandinavian countries are always at the top) seems to bear it out.

But the picture Moore paints is his point of view, in many ways as coloured as the doom-gloom-consume message we get from mass media coverage of geopolitics. As always, when extreme views are on offer, the real truth is somewhere in the middle. But even though he's talking about lofty dictums of human existence, he's at least (still) giving you an alternate view.

The real shame of the movie is that Moore's work is as effective as ever and even though he's never changed, the audience has. After the heady days of Palme d'Or and Oscar wins with movies like Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine, everyone got tired of him around the time of Capitalism: A Love Story, and he's not nearly as feted as he once was.

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