In 2007’s SiCKO, Michael Moore presented the world with a portrait of Britain’s NHS that was something akin to the Garden of Eden. Now, I’m very glad that we have the NHS and I certainly don’t want it to go away but it is a fuck up and a shambles and has been for some time! It is interesting that – almost a decade later – the UK doesn’t feature in Moore’s latest work. This is maybe less to do with him being called out on his fanciful propaganda as it is to do with the fact that Britain has no ideas that the US could or would nick to better themselves. That said, it does flag up the fact that it is quite hard to watch a Michael Moore film and believe it nowadays.
The idea this time round is that we follow Moore as he goes on a one-man, whistle-stop invasion world tour, ostensibly liberating other countries of certain benefits they have which would, in his view, suit the US. For example, prisons based around rehabilitation from Norway, healthy school dinners from France or greater gender equality from both Tunisia and Iceland.
Let’s clear this up from the get-go: film has no obligation to the truth. That doesn’t mean to say that it’s a fool’s errand in trying to tell the truth but filmmakers (and to a larger extent, all artists) are in no way obligated towards it. The problem with Moore is that he is so much telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and yet he has blotted his copybook in the past by changing facts (e.g. banks with free guns in Bowling for Columbine) to present a polemical argument. Now, it would seem, he has learned his lesson insofar as he is up front about the film being a polemic. He says quite early on that he’s picking the flowers rather than the weeds*. That’s kinda fine in this film because that’s the essence of the argument: what good things America needs to learn from other countries to better itself. However, within these points, there are so many times where – because of Moore’s past transgressions – you want to fact check what’s being presented to you. Then it becomes very difficult to believe his version of The Truth.
For all that, to be fair to Moore, he does know how to construct an argument in a way that is entertaining. I enjoyed the ride, even despite my problems with his inherent biases. The film is funny and well put together and Moore has seemingly nuanced his onscreen persona to be less earnest and more playing the Dumb American card in interviews (a simpler version of comedian Brendon Burns’ Dumb White Guy obsession). Plus, it’s an optimistic film and you don’t get a lot of that in 2016.
*Apologies for the lack of a quote, I couldn’t write it down in the cinema and I thought I’d be able to find it online. Nope.