Written and directed by Michael Moore | 120 min | ▲▲▲△△
The documentarian with the biggest box office ever returns to mock-invade other countries—mostly Europe’s social democracies—to symbolically plant the Stars and Stripes and “steal” their ideas. It’s a little like he did in his 2002 picture Bowling For Columbine, when he visited Canada and famously revealed we feel so safe we leave our doors unlocked in our city homes and, for some reason, we don’t shoot each other as often as in the States.
Conceptually, it’s a little smug. He’s shaming America by showing what’s great about the way people in other countries do things. Except it’s rarely as simple as he presents.
In Italy, the first nation he visits, he shows sexy Italians who have weeks and weeks of paid vacation and, in December, they’re paid a double salary so they can save for those vacations. He neglects to mention that Italy is on the precipice of a financial crisis, he just remarks that Italy has problems, but he’s there to “pick the flowers, not the weeds.”
To that I say—come on, Mike. At least be honest about the costs associated with some of these positive cultural systems.
But it gets better as it goes along. France serves gourmet food to kids in school, and in Finland the quality of education has been improved by doing away with standardized testing and listening to what the kids want. Slovenian universities are free to all, even international students. The war on drugs has been called off in Portugal. In Germany, if you’re stressed out, you can get a three week prescription for a spa.
Also in Germany, Moore notes that the culture has acknowledged its past, its original sin. In the documentary’s most potent moment, he muses what America might look like if it openly acknowledged the nation was founded on genocide and slavery.
For the most part, Moore’s light touch and sense of humour lifts the material from a heavy-handed didacticism, and it may be eye-opening to anyone who knows nothing about how the world works outside North America.
But, I’m reminded how few world-class documentarians put themselves in the middle of their frame. I can’t help but think if Moore was personally less front and centre of his films, his points could be made more effectively. They’re solid, compelling arguments, if he and his flag would just get out of the way.