“Where to Invade Next:” Michael Moore’s film makes its points, annoyingly

Michael MooreMichael Moore’s new film has a coy title, “Where to Invade Next.” And that’s where the trouble begins. Based on the title, you might think that the movie is going to be a wry protest against America’s misguided adventures in the Middle East and elsewhere. But it’s not. It purports to satirize America’s unenlightened policies regarding issues such as healthcare, taxation, prisons, education and work. The premise is that European countries do all of those things better, and that we should “invade” those countries and claim the best of their policies for ourselves.

As always, Moore does it cute—starting with the title, and then using person-on-the-street interviews, archival footage, clips from old movies, ambush interviews of public figures, a heavy-handed musical score, and drippingly sarcastic commentary. But, sorry to say, it just doesn’t work this time. It’s the same technique he used—to much better effect—in his earlier movies. The best of those was “Roger and Me.” That movie worked because Moore seemed to have more passion for the subject—the dire economic state of  his hometown Flint, Michigan. And he told the story in format that was new and refreshing at the time. But with this latest effort, Moore has run out his string with this movie-making style, and it’s just gotten tiresome.

He does, however, make some valid points about the contrast between European nations and the US. Italians have more vacations and days off and better working conditions than most Americans. Finland’s schools don’t have homework or standardized tests, and its educators believe that kids should play more and have time off from school. French people pay less in actual and virtual taxes and get a lot more in social benefits—free healthcare etc. Slovenia provides free higher education. Iceland sent its corrupt bankers to jail, and the one bank that survived was run by women. Tunisia’s women took to the streets and gained equal rights. Prisons in Norway treat prisoners humanely, and there is no death penalty. Germany teaches its students about Nazi atrocities.

I agree with Moore that these differences make America look bad. There’s plenty to be outraged about, and a lot that the US could learn. Unfortunately, Moore makes these points in a very annoying way: He is clownish and boorish. He presents himself as a know-nothing, ugly-American stereotype. His movie-making style is self-indulgent: He just can’t resist being the center of every scene. [I was particularly annoyed when he just had to include his own story of being at the Berlin Wall when it was being demolished. And his interview with a Norwegian man whose son was killed in the infamous 2011 mass murder was absolutely cringe-worthy, as he repeatedly tried to goad the man into saying that he would want the death penalty for the murderer.]

Worst of all, for a movie whose central arguments actually have merit, Moore’s hyperbole, oversimplifications–and repeated, unfunny flag-planting stunt–undermine the seriousness of his intent. Examples:There is a lot more behind Italy’s generous work policies than Moore explains. And I seriously doubt that, as Moore claims, German schools remind students “every day” about what the Nazis did during World War II.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy political satire. Making serious points by making people laugh is a very effective strategy. Moore just didn’t get it right, this time.

Better editing and a less middle-school attitude could have made this a much better documentary—one that might even have had the potential to enlighten some of America’s real know-nothings.