Greetings again from the darkness. We haven’t heard much from director Michael Moore since his 2009 film Capitalism: A Love Story … and not many people have complained. While Mr. Moore’s eagerness to ask tough questions and confront the system has always been appreciated (or at least thought-provoking), his style and manner have often seemed somewhat dubious, one-sided and self-serving. And now comes the new and improved Michael Moore. Many say he has mellowed in temperament; however, a better description might be that he has achieved a level of wisdom that allows for an approach that makes us more receptive to his points.
This latest begins with a note that the U.S. has not won a war since WWII, and the farcical hook is that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have summoned Moore for advice. See, America has lost its way and is on the wrong track when it comes to such basics as personal happiness, equality and overall priorities. Moore’s solution is to “invade” other countries and stake a claim on the things they do better than us (us being the United States).
To drive home the contrast of how other nations focus on crucial topics that the U.S. seems to have forgotten, Moore cherry-picks the best parts of other societies. These include: Italy (extended vacations for less stress), France (superior school nutrition and straight-forward sex education), Finland (top rated education despite no homework, short school days, and no standardized testing), Slovenia (free college education which means no debt for graduates), Germany (strong middle class, national healthcare, high wages at small companies), Portugal (decriminalization of drugs resulting in less crime and lower drug usage), Norway (prison rehabilitation), Tunisia (women’s rights), and Iceland (gender equality).
To convince us of his kinder, gentler self, Moore obsessively flaunts the American flag throughout. It does help to distract from his trademark disheveled and bedraggled personal appearance … his usual method in attempting to convince he’s just “one of the guys” rather than the multi-millionaire he is. Still, despite his gimmicky approach, it’s impossible not to notice the obvious lack of in-your-face negativity. In fact, it could be stated that optimism exists as he tromps his way through the good news in each stop. Optimism with a bite – the comparisons aren’t favorable for the U.S. in any of these scenarios.
What Moore does best is generate debate and inspire passionate discussion on topics. His point here is that most of the ideals he is claiming from other countries actually have a foundation in America. Yes, these are ideals that America has forsaken, yet are working in other places. Of course, the cherry-picking gives the impression of idyllic societies, when in fact, each of these nations face many of their own unnamed challenges – some on the specific topics addressed by Moore.
Moore’s goal seems to be to re-focus our attention on core American values – the topics Americans care about in our daily lives. He wants us to be annoyed with the way things are … crime-fed bankers still lining their pockets, a stressed-out workforce, and an education system that is quite simply stated, a mess. Maybe this kinder, gentler (but still manipulative) contrarian is on to something, and he ends by asking us how we feel about all of this. Moore has again succeeded in getting us thinking about things, and this time it comes with quite a surreal movie moment … Moore telling a disinterested Portugal police officer that he has “cocaine in my pocket right now.”