Michael Moore has made the movie that everybody thinks about making after visiting Europe for the first time. “Where to Invade Next” is all about the great ideas from other countries that we might think about trying. It’s about how nice it is in France, Germany and Italy — and Slovenia and Portugal and Norway and Iceland. It’s not that we have it so bad here, but that other countries have it good, too, and in some areas, they have it better.
For many Americans, the mere concept of this documentary will be heretical. Aren’t we the greatest? Doesn’t everybody know that? So why listen to what foreigners have to say? They’re all jealous. They resent us because we’re so wonderful. Alas, the people who’d benefit most from seeing this movie will never see it. People who go around chanting “USA! USA!” at every opportunity tend not to have passports.
The central gimmick of “Where to Invade Next,” which borders on silly, is that United States keeps getting into wars and getting nothing out of them, and so now, instead, Michael Moore will be invading countries on his own, with the idea of bringing something useful back home. He carries a big American flag with him and plants it into the ground every time he hears a good idea. He claims the idea for the United States.
He goes to Italy first — always a good choice — where he endorses the Italian way of government-mandated seven-week vacations for everybody. Apparently industry in Italy doesn’t collapse from this and management and labor get along fine. Moreover, Italians live a lot longer than they do in the United States, probably because they’re not overworked, overstressed and miserable.
Then Moore goes to France and checks out the lunches being served to schoolchildren and high school kids. You’d be amazed. It’s not the white flour and slop that we grew up on. It’s good food, and somehow produced for less money than in the United States.
Some of the things Moore uncovers seem, from an American perspective, positively surreal. Going to prison in Norway, for example, looks like an enforced vacation. The prisoners have their own rooms and their own keys. They read in the library. They go swimming, and nobody is ever knifed in the shower or sexually violated. It’s hard to imagine how such a thing could work, but according to Moore, the recidivism rate is a very low 20 percent.
In Portugal, they made drugs legal — and drug use went down. In Iceland, they experienced a financial collapse and actually prosecuted the white-collar crooks responsible for it. In Slovenia, college is free, and in Germany they’re facing their Nazi history and not sweeping it under the rug.
As a piece of filmmaking, “Where to Invade Next” gets off to a strong start and then sags in the last 30 minutes, but it makes a lot of interesting points and, in the way it shows other countries, conveys something about the United Starts: There is just something harsh in American life, something in our national personality going all the way back to de Toqueville and beyond. You feel it when you get back from vacation, turn on the radio and everything sounds like one loud migraine.
Who knows if the ideas and solutions of other countries could even work here? But Moore, at least, offers something to think about.
Where to Invade Next
Rated: R for language, some voilent images, drug use, brief graphic nudity. Starring: Michael Moore. Director: Michael Moore. Running time: 119 minutes. Theater: Flicks.