Despite its title, Michael Moore’s film Where to Invade Next doesn’t have quite the urgency of the outraged exposés that made him one of the world’s best-known makers of documentary op-eds. Instead of the frontal assaults on America’s gun culture (Bowling for Columbine), its health care system (Sicko), or the spurious war on terrorism (Fahrenheit 9/11), Moore’s new one has more in common with the calm despair of Capitalism: A Love Story. The film is a wistful, laugh-to-keep-from-crying examination of what it means to be an ordinary 99-per-center in 21st-century America, as seen in contrast to other societies. Seems we’re missing out on a lot.
The movie’s title is an ironic joke. Moore explains that since we haven’t won a war outright since The Big One — World War II — it’s high time we picked on one of those small Caucasian countries, mostly in Europe, that have something we’d actually want. Like government-mandated annual eight-week paid vacations for all workers.
Dressed in his customary sloppy jeans and Detroit Tigers baseball cap and looking like an unmade bed, Moore drops in on Johnny and Cristina, an Italian married couple, and discovers that not only do they get eight weeks paid, a national health plan, five months’ paid maternity leave, and a two-hour workday lunch break when they go home and eat their mostaccioli, but every December they receive a “thirteenth-month” paycheck so they can afford to have some fun — the idea being that they work the other twelve months to pay their bills and need the thirteenth month’s pay to recharge their batteries. Moore is flabbergasted as he sits listening to this. So are we. No wonder Italians always look as if they’ve just had sex.
Johnny and Cristina are shocked to learn that in the USA, the government does not require companies to offer any kind of paid vacation whatsoever. As he tours places like Germany (where union workers sit on corporate boards), Portugal (no drug laws), Slovenia (free university education for everyone), Norway (relaxed prisons without walls), Finland (no homework for schoolkids; all tuition is illegal), and Iceland (greedy bankers sent to prison; women assume more control of society), Moore gets plenty of sympathy from the people he talks to. One of the most poignant visits is to a public middle-school in France, where the students eat gourmet meals and receive sex education. When the French students take a look at a typical American school lunch, they wince. “You know it’s bad when the French pity you,” observes Moore.
One of the movie’s stops is the North African country of Tunisia, where women’s rights are guaranteed by the state, as are free abortions and free women’s health clinics — this in an Arab country where 99 percent of the people are Sunni Muslim. Will wonders never cease? Moore’s point, as always, is that Americans have always been among the world’s leaders in free thinking and fairness, but that we’ve lost our way. Where to Invade Next? Maybe we should start at home.
Editor’s Note: The first paragraph of this review was inadvertently cut when we uploaded it to the web. It has been restored.