“The American Dream was alive everywhere except America.”
— Michael Moore in Where To Invade Next
Documentary filmmaker and activist, Michael Moore could make a movie about nearly anything at this point. His Academy Award winning films are among the top ten highest-grossing documentaries of all time, delving deep into sizable topics like, poverty, capitalist corruption, failing healthcare, assault weapons, and war. After 25 years of successful filmmaking, Moore himself is a wealthy man, worth millions of dollars and named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine. He has a platform and a microphone; he could make a film about anything and people would likely flock to see it. However, his latest film is a departure, it doesn’t reveal any conspiracies or out evil behind-the-scenes capitalists. Instead, Moore takes a much more positive approach, he’s not simply presenting a problem, he’s attempting to cultivate a desire from American viewers, the desire for a better quality for life.
Where to Invade Next is one of Moore’s more entertaining films. He begins with the darkly playful premise that after having forcefully taken resources from other nations, the time has come for the United States to aggressively plunder ideas. And who better to lead the crusade than Michael Moore himself?
Moore travels to nine countries to witness their best policies and then bring them back for America’s benefit. He begins with the concept of leisure in Italy, where citizens get 30 days of paid vacation per year, plus an additional monthly salary each year specifically to fund holiday travel and relaxation. Moore presents a cheerful and productive workforce and, in interviews with company owners, discusses the societal priority of cultivating the health and wellbeing of the entire community. This is a culture invested in the protection of everyone’s leisure time, from the two-hour lunch break, to the five months of mandatory maternity leave. At this point, I’m hooked.
Not unlike listening to a friend go on and on about the extravagant gifts her husband lavished upon her for Valentine’s Day, while your own spouse bought you half-price drugstore milk chocolates, I tried to smile, and take the high road. It’s nice to know someone else has it so good. Right? As an American, jealously was easy for the remainder of the film, and other uncomfortable feelings come from many angles. When the quality of life on screen is so appealing, there’s envy for the free college education and the healthy school lunches, but there’s also shame, knowing that there is such extreme poverty, corruption and racism in America.
Moore tries to keep it light, and he’s been criticized for this approach. Tackling so many social issues means he can only provide a cursory glance into each topic. In a review at Vulture, Bilge Ebiri says “he doesn’t give us (or himself, frankly) the chance to dig deeper into the story — to engage with the concepts he’s discussing.” And while this criticism is true, I see this as a prudent directorial choice. This film isn’t going to provide a comprehensive study on any one social issue, instead, it’s purpose is to open a window for American audiences to see how other countries have taken the idea of the American dream, and run with it.
There are moments of weakness where Moore’s heavy-handed style gets away from him, and leaves me with my eyes rolling at the simplistic solutions he offers. In the Icelandic section he focuses on the topic of women in leadership. He interviews Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first democratically elected woman president in the world, who’s personal story of single motherhood and political achievements is inspiring. Moore then gathers a handful of the country’s top female executives to discuss the secrets of their success, they share tremendous insights about the importance of cultivating a leadership that reflects gender equality. But Moore goes on, through a sappy montage, to postulate that if there were more female leaders there would be less war and a new global way of thinking that prioritizes children, health, and communal wellbeing. History has shown us otherwise with the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi, and Moore does a disservice to the articulate Icelandic women he interviews and their emphasis on cultivating a society where equality and moral obligation for our neighbors is more important than the pursuit of individual prosperity. It’s not just about being female; it’s about being a better human being.
Frustrations with Moore’s simplified solutions aside, Where to Invade Next presents a needed opportunity for Americans to question our own culture and our power to change it. The film doesn’t live up to Moore’s thesis—we don’t walk away with ways to adopt the best social policies of his “conquered” countries—but the film does succeed in cultivating a taste for more than we’ve been putting up with in the United States. Where to Invade Next has the potential to be Moore’s most people pleasing film yet, regardless of a viewer’s politics, religious beliefs, or cultural biases, we can all agree that it’s time to discuss improvements to our daily lives, and public school lunches are as good a place to start as any.