To some degree, you have to know what you’re going to get when you sit down to watch a documentary from Michael Moore. In the case of his latest endeavor, Where to Invade Next, a number of Moore’s trademarks are still there, like the filmmaker front and center on camera, comedy masking sadness, and a decidedly liberal bent on politics. Back when I saw it at the New York Film Festival, I found that Moore’s latest doc does offer something new, which happens to be an optimistic tone. For the first time, what you get from the documentarian is positivity and a hopefulness. As such, it helps to make Where to Invade Next one of his best works to date. Moore might not win over any new converts here, but if you’re inclined to like his films, you’ll almost certainly be a fan of this new side of him. I’m in that boat, and found it to be one of his top two or three docs, so consider this high praise. Where to Invade Next was one of NYFF’s top titles for 2015, at least in my eyes, though that’s a big compliment, believe me. It’s getting a qualifying run this week before its actual theatrical release in early 2016, so while it’s a surefire contender for a Best Documentary Feature nomination (and perhaps even a surprise win), it’s also something well worth seeing if it’s playing near you..
The concept here in Where to Invade Next is not what the title would initial suggest to you. Essentially, it’s that Michael Moore has jokingly been summoned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ask where America should invade next after not having outright won a war since World War II. Moore offers up the thought of sending him instead, but his idea is to go friendly nations, find out what they’re doing better than we are here in the United States, and steal those concepts. That’s the prologue essentially, with the invasions/mission coming next. He sets out to Italy (where they have seven weeks of paid vacation as a worker’s right), France (they have school lunches that would put some of our restaurants to shame), Finland (their education system is more successful by having less hours and less homework), Portugal (drugs have been decriminalized with no ill effects), Norway (they treat their prisoners with dignity), Iceland (which has mostly women in power), and other locations. Of course, in each place he hams it up for the camera, shows what we’re doing wrong by comparison, and tries to amuse while educating. Yes, he sidesteps the problems in all of those nations, but as he explicitly states he’s there “to pick the flowers, not the weeds”. Moore isn’t as angry as usual (with his angriest clearly being either Capitalism: A Love Story or Fahrenheit 9/11), but he’s just as effective as he’s ever been.
Moore’s filmmaking is rather divisive by nature, but this time around I feel like it fits as well as it ever has. Where to Invade Next isn’t an all out rage against the machine so much as it is an editorial full of suggestions about how to improve life in the United States. When it gets time to sum things up, Moore has a great analogy involving the Berlin Wall that really hammers the point home, pun intended (stay after the credits too, by the way, as a really strong visual image is thrown in to help make his point with authority). Some of the funnier bits here aren’t as effective as in previous docs of his, but when he ties it not the sad moments in our history, it really works. I’ll admit it, I choked up during one segment involving Germany’s way of dealing with the Holocaust in comparison to how we deal with our history of slavery. In terms of eliciting emotion, it’s just as successful as Bowling for Columbine or Sicko. I was very impressed.
Basically it comes down to what you think of the documentarian. Again, if you hate Moore and find his work easy to dismiss, I doubt this will change your mind, but this really is his most accessible documentary in some time. I’ll probably have more to say about Where to Invade Next before its February 2016 release date (this is just the end of the year Oscar qualifying run), but this is my favorite documentary of 2015, without question. Whenever the opportunity does arise, make it your business to see Where to Invade Next if you like entertaining and important documentaries. You really can’t go wrong, provided you can deal with Moore, or even kind of admire him, like I do. He’s got something new to say, and says it well.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!