'Where to Invade Next' is kinder, gentler Michael Moore

The movie, which centers on Moore traveling to Europe and showing socio-political innovations there, is in many respects as dubious as most of his other film forays.

Courtesy of TIFF
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and several Commanders in Chiefs appear in the Pentagon in 1983, including (from l. to r.) U.S. Navy Adm. Wesley L. McDonald, Commander in Chief, US Atlantic Command; U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Paul X. Kelley, Commandant of the Marine Corps; U.S. Army Gen. Paul F. Gorman, Commander in Chief, US Southern Command; U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Robert C. Kingston, Commander in Chief, US Central Command; U.S. Army Gen. John A. Wickham, Chief of Staff, US Army; U.S. Army Gen. Wallace H. Nutting, Commander in Chief, US Readiness Command; U.S. Air Force Gen. James V. Hartinger, Commander in Chief, Aerospace Defense Command; U.S. Navy Adm. William J. Crowe, Commander in Chief, US Pacific Command; U.S. Air Force Gen. Charles A. Gabriel, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force; U.S. Army Bernard W. Rogers, Commander in Chief, US European Command; U.S. Army Gen. John W. Vessey, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; U.S. Air Force Gen. Bennie L. Davis, Commander in Chief, US Strategic Air Command; U.S. Navy Adm. James D. Watkins, Chief of Naval Operations; and U.S. Air Force Gen. Thomas M. Ryan, Commander in Chief, Military Airlift Command.

Michael Moore’s “Where To Invade Next,” his first documentary in six years, begins with footage involving the US Joint Chiefs of Staff that, along with the film’s title, had me expecting another of his screeds. It turns out this film is Moore in a distinctly kinder, gentler mode, although in many other respects it’s as dubious as most of his other forays.

The “invasion” on view is actually Moore himself making pit stops around the globe. The film’s thesis, if that’s not too grand a word, is that countries like Italy and Finland and France are much the better for their socio-political innovations that America would be wise to adopt. Moore interviews a young working couple in Italy as well as the CEO of the Ducati motorcyle company and is astounded to discover that workers get 30 to 35 days of annual paid vacation, not including religious and national holidays. As if this is not enough, women get five months of paid maternity leave and honeymooners get paid time off as well.

The implication is that Italy is both a lovers’ paradise and a workers’s paradise. Given the dismal state of Italy’s economy, many Italians might have a somewhat different view of Moore’s bliss-out, but, then again, throughout his movie, Moore is careful to interview only those who support his agenda. (I would love to know if there are any contrarian outtakes from this film, if Moore hasn’t already destroyed them.)

In France, we are taken to a small village school where the meals are prepared daily by a top chef and are not only delicious and kid-friendly but nutritious. No junk food. According to Moore, this is the norm throughout France’s public schools. I happened to see this film in Toronto sitting next to a French film critic friend and asked him if this was true. “Well, maybe around Christmas,” he answered.

Finland gets high marks for its school policy of ditching the homework requirement for its students, thereby encouraging more outside participation in family life and socializing with friends. As a result, Finland has shot up to the number one ranking in school systems around the world, while the US, with its homework drudgeries and SATs and all the rest, is a lowly 29th.

I’m not sure that eliminating homework will do much to improve the American school system, but it will most assuredly boost students's video game skills. Maybe the students who couldn’t get into US universities because of their homework-less lack of preparedness can enroll instead in the free universities of Slovenia, which, according the film, cater to foreign students, offer courses in English, and are free of charge. Job prospects might be slim after receiving such a diploma, but, hey, you can’t have everything. The minimum wage is probably better in Slovenia, too.

And so it goes. “Where to Invade Next” is blithely entertaining but almost completely devoid of rigor. When Moore treks to Germany and praises the country for not whitewashing the nation’s Nazi past (unlike America’s avoidance of its historic mistreatment of blacks and Native Americans), you wonder if Moore is even aware of the sharp rise in neo-Nazism throughout Europe. He also has high praise for that citadel of democracy, Tunisia.

But brie on the school lunch menu? Now that’s something worth fighting for. Grade: C+ (Rated R for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity.)

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