Just in time for the holidays, the latest from agent provocateur Michael Moore finds him in a mellow mood. The funny, biting Where to Invade Next is the Oscar-winning documentarian’s first movie since Capitalism: A Love Story six years ago, and it riffs on a simple premise. What if the U.S. changed things up and invaded countries to learn from them, steal their greatest ideas and export those back to America?
Moore tells us, in narration, that he plans to fly around the world to “pick the flowers, not the weeds.” So off he goes, a jovial, faux naïve, one-man Armed Forces. His stops include Finland (where the best-ranked schools in the world have no use for standardized testing and its students rattle off the numbers of languages in which they’re fluent), Italy (where interviewees are dumbfounded to learn that Americans get no paid leave while Italians get 8 weeks, not to mention very long lunch breaks), Portugal (decriminalizing drugs ended their epidemic long ago), France (school lunches, even in the poorest areas, are healthy chef-prepared haute cuisine), Germany (where the boards of corporations have strong worker representation) and Norway (their clean, modern, open prisons are about “rehabilitation rather than revenge).
The movie’s through-line is obvious: society flourishes where equal rights and equal pay are respected. The big takeaway is that many of the world’s best ideas were American-spawned in the first place, and Moore urges us to reclaim them. The director doesn’t scold this time out. He’s uncharacteristically optimistic, a newfound quality even Moore himself calls “crazy.” And although his movie may be flabby in places, it’s should also be an eye-opener, especially for blind proponents of American exceptionalism – probably the people least likely to give the movie, and Moore, a fair shot.