"Where to Invade Next" is documentarian Michael Moore's first film since "Capitalism: A Love Story" six years ago. Once again, he's focused on the failure of American institutions to meet the needs of American citizens. However, he spends the entirety of this film abroad looking at foreign entities that have solved some of our most hotly debated problems. Will this mark Moore's return to the Oscars?
Moore won Best Documentary Feature in 2002 for "Bowling for Columbine," which examined American gun violence. He was nominated again in 2007 for his health-care expose "Sicko." But while Moore is once again outraged, the spin this time is more optimistic than confrontational.
As he explained after the recent New York filmfest press screening, his goal was to "pick the flowers, not the weeds" of foreign cultures, "invading" not to address foreign policy but to try to import some of the world's best ideas including Italy's generous workers' rights, Finland's education system, Norway's humane approach to prisons and Iceland's gender equality.
The Moore in this film isn't the angry crusader who accepted his 2002 Oscar by saying, "Shame on you, Mr. Bush" for waging the war in Iraq for "fictitious reasons." His convictions haven't changed, but his tone is softer. By examining the successes of other developed nations in uplifting their citizens, he delivers a strong political message in a way that is warm, funny and downright life-affirming.
That populist slant could help him appeal to the academy again. In recent years, voters have vacillated between political documentaries ("Inside Job" in 2010, "Citizenfour" in 2014) and feel-good stories ("Undefeated" in 2011, "Searching for Sugar Man" in 2012, "20 Feet from Stardom" in 2013). "Where to Invade Next" manages to be a little of both.
But Moore hasn't suddenly become a shrinking violet. Thirteen years after his Oscar-winning gun-control film, he expressed frustration to reporters about politics in the wake of yet another American mass murder, at an Oregon community college on October 1: "To say that you have the right to regulate a woman's uterus but not guns – I think the only safe place for guns would be in a woman's uterus, then they would be regulated by our Republican Congress."
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Photo: Michael Moore at the New York Film Festival, Oct. 2, 2015. Credit: Daniel Montgomery