Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
WHERE TO INVADE NEXT | 110 min | NR
Directed by: Michael Moore
Provocateur. Pot-stirrer. Loudmouth. Liberal. Sensationalist. Unreasonable blowhard. Rabble rouser. Agitator. Social justice warrior. These are the names often associated with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. Compassionate sense-maker. Rationalist. Equalitarian. Pacifist. These are the names not often associated with him. Yet, in the case of his latest documentary, WHERE TO INVADE NEXT, he eschews his traditionally aggressive shtick in favor of a much kinder, reasonable approach to getting his salient points across. And guess what? It works – brilliantly. It’s an empathetic plea to the American public to get their government to change their old-fashioned ways, and makes its case in an intelligent, deeply engrossing, highly entertaining and brilliantly scathing way.
For this doco, Moore sets out to uncover the reasons why America has fallen behind other countries in so many ways. We’re living in a terrible time marked by voter suppression, police brutality, the housing crisis fallout and a lack of support for returning troops. Abortion clinics are under attack. Our prison population is exploding. And this is all in the opening credits! He’s fed up and takes his act on the road, “invading” other countries, using American brute force to steal their realistic ideals and lifestyles. He uses the aggressive term “invade,” but really he just wants to adopt other cultures’ sensible ideas.
Moore exposes facts in an almost-trademarked, mind-blowing manner. Surprising revelations about how other countries function and their belief systems are handled with finely-tuned craft and care. From Italy’s 8-week paid vacations, to Norway’s prison system, to Iceland’s financial collapse, the surprises can be equal parts comedic and astounding. It’s truly heartbreaking to hear an American teacher in Finland discuss her American pupils’ future as compared to her Finnish pupils. And just wait until you see what French school kids eat for their daily lunches. It’s better than what most Americans eat ever. Plus, there’s a brilliantly edited, almost innocuous moment involving an interviewee mistaking Iceland’s former financial regulator Bill Black with actor Jack Black.
Some of the “reveals” come as no surprise. As the tee-shirt slogan has famously taught us, “Italians do it better.” When you see their segment, you’ll agree. Also, the documentarian fails to explore how other countries – specifically Norway – treat the mentally ill faction of the prison population. Moore seems to manipulate testimony of one of the fathers of a victim of the 2011 attacks, not as a lesson on the power of forgiveness, but rather as a tool for that country’s shockingly low recidivism rate. Moore also makes some broad and superficial assessments that he expects us to take as fact when they aren’t, going overboard with this in the Portugal segment. Overall, there’s a certain “preaching to the choir” feeling, as the audience who’d buy a ticket to this would already be in Moore’s pocket.
Nevertheless, WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is Moore’s noble attempt to knock down the walls that are clearly dividing our country. As Moore’s pal Ron said of the Berlin wall, “take a hammer, knock it down.” This documentary is Moore’s chisel. People, you help bring it down!
WHERE TO INVADE NEXT played AFI Fest on November 7. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 23 and nationwide on February 12, 2016.