Where to Invade Next | Movie+TV Reviews | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published February 10, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated February 16, 2016 at 6:19 p.m.

I’ve got a great idea for the Bernie Sanders campaign. It should create a position for Michael Moore — maybe Director of Yes We Can — and bring him on the trail. Whenever Hillary suggests some part of Bernie’s platform is pie in the sky, the Oscar winner can stand up and name a country where the idea’s already been implemented with success.

The wide release of Where to Invade Next certainly wasn’t timed to coincide with the Feel the Bern phenomenon, but Moore’s latest documentary complements it perfectly. It’s no surprise that Moore has endorsed the candidate: He’s supported Sanders, even campaigned for him, since the latter was mayor of Burlington. What’s remarkable is the degree to which the filmmaker’s thesis functions as a rebuttal to detractors who would dismiss Sanders as a dreamer.

The doc’s tongue-in-cheek premise is that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have summoned Moore to apologize for wasting blood and treasure on misbegotten wars. (The invasion of Iraq, for which Clinton famously voted, is given special emphasis.) They ask the filmmaker to “invade” countries with exemplary social systems so he can bring back ideas to make America great again.

Part polemic, part travelogue, this is the most upbeat movie of Moore’s career. He describes his transformation into a “crazy optimist” by the discoveries he makes on his mission. Free higher education? Look no further than the “magical fairyland” of Slovenia. There, Moore hilariously attempts to explain the concept of student debt to dumbfounded young people, and he runs into Americans forced to study abroad by skyrocketing tuition at home.

Universal health care is alive and well in Germany. Moore sang the praises of Europe’s government-sponsored programs in 2007’s Sicko. But even he is surprised to learn that any German who’s feeling stressed can get a doctor’s note and spend three paid weeks at their spa of choice.

Anti-Wall Street sentiment has factored signifi cantly in the election-year conversation. Moore’s visit to Iceland produces a couple of pertinent revelations. First, when the fi nancial meltdown hit that nation, bankers were put behind bars. Second, the lead prosecutor responsible says he got the idea from America’s prosecution of wrongdoers during the savings-and-loan scandal.

With a two-hour running time, the film covers a lot of ground. Literally. Moore examines pressing issues —from the decriminalization of drug use to prison reform —and, in every case, manages to find somewhere with an approach that works way better than our own. A few years ago, for example, Finland was tied with the U.S. in educational rankings. Then it dropped standardized testing and stopped giving kids homework. Today it leads the world in those same rankings.

The filmmaker’s signature wit is in evidence throughout, along with a mellowing and wistfulness that make these bitter pills easy to swallow. Moore never claims that the countries he “invades” don’t have problems of their own — just that, by putting people before profits, they offer models from which we can learn.

Moore even manages to find that disappearing middle class. He interviews workers in the factories of Italy, where employees receive almost comical amounts of paid vacation. They look at him like he’s from another planet when he asks whether anyone holds down a second or third job.

Moore may not have timed this movie to coincide with the Sanders revolution specifically, but there’s zero doubt he designed it to ignite discussion in a critical election year. Where to Invade Next is a playful, subtly patriotic work from our greatest cinematic gadfly. His goal isn’t to criticize this country but to point out that others have solved problems we’re still grappling with, and to suggest we take a hint.

What a foreign concept.