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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Where to Invade Next documentary review: finding the American dream everywhere but America

by MaryAnn Johanson

Where to Invade Next green light

Michael Moore doesn’t hate America. But he does wonder how other nations are doing so many things better than the supposed greatest country in the world.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Michael Moore

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Alas, the Americans who really really really need to see this movie will go out of their way to avoid it.

I’m talking about the people who get all of their “news” from Fox, and “know” that Norway and Italy are communist hellholes where everyone waits in line for toilet paper and can’t get their blood pressure checked without permission from the government and an appointment 18 months out. These people also “know” — because Fox News has kindly informed them of this — that rabble-rousing documentarian Michael Moore hates America. Obviously. Because criticism of one’s homeland in the hopes that it can improve is clearly the same thing as hatred.

Perhaps it is a smack in the face to those people — even if they will never see that smack — that Moore literally wraps himself in the American flag in Where to Invade Next, his first film in six years. He “invades” other nations — stalking into Norway and Italy, and also France and Germany and Finland and Iceland, and even Tunisia — in search of great ideas America can steal, with the Stars and Stripes actually drapped around his shoulders, and then he plants a flag when he finds great ideas to claim. It’s hilariously bellicose, self-deprecating in a personal way and ironic on a cultural level: the film opens by juxtaposing grand speeches by recent American presidents about the awesomeness of American freedom and power and beneficence with the clusterfuck of collapsing American infrastructure and social upheaval and unrest. Who are we to talk about how great America is when our police attack and kill children, when our bridges are falling down? There is love in Moore’s stance here — it’s not just satirical — but also anger and disappointment. He doesn’t hate America. But, like many of his fellow Americans, he doesn’t understand how, if America is the greatest in the world, as it keeps insisting it is, so many other nations are doing so many things so much better?

What are other nations doing better? How about six weeks of paid vacation in Italy — and an extra month’s salary to pay for relaxing holidays — and a two-hour lunch every day? How about four-course gourmet meals in French school cafeterias and sex-ed classes that focus on physical and emotional well-being, not fear and abstinence? How about shorter school days and no homework in Finnish schools, which results in the best-educated kids on the planet? Feeling stressed at work in Germany? Ask your doctor for a prescription for a stay at a spa. Want to reduce recidivism in the criminal justice system (the U.S. has one of the highest rates)? Maybe our prisons should be more like Norway’s (with one of the lowest rates); minimum security looks like a summer camp, and maximum security looks way nicer than the college dorm I once lived in. And maybe we could completely decriminalize drugs, like they’ve done in Portugal, which has so far refused to collapse into a postapocalyptic wasteland.

That last one would require a nation interested in treating drug addiciton as a medical problem instead of a criminal one, and Moore doesn’t go much into health care in Invade; he covered how the rest of the postindustrialized world does that better than the U.S. in Sicko. But even without a focus on health care, he lays out an excellent and persuasive case that citizens of these other nations are happier, healthier, have more power at work but work fewer hours, have more free time, are better educated, and just overall get a lot more enjoyment out of life than Americans do. Human dignity matters in these places in ways that seems to be missing in America. For this privilege, we see, the people of France and Italy and Norway pay a little more in taxes than Americans do, but they get a lot more. When you add in all that Americans pay for the things that taxes cover in part or in whole in other countries — everything from day care to college tuition — Americans are paying a helluva lot more… or, at least, those who can afford it are. Everyone else is screwed. As Moore sadly sums it up: “The American dream [seems] to be alive and well almost everywhere but America.”

Moore does not deny that other countries have their share of problems, but his “mission” here, as he says, “is to pick the flowers, not the weeds.” Moore isn’t saying — as the reflexive America-love-it-or-leave-it crowd would have it — that anyone unhappy with the course America is on should move elsewhere. He’s saying this: If America really is the greatest country in the world, it should be able to plant those flowers and make them grow even better than France and Italy does. Shouldn’t it?

green light 4.5 stars

Where to Invade Next (2015)
US/Canada release date: Dec 23 2015 | UK release date: Jun 10 2016

MPAA: rated R for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, violence, drug references)

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Patrick

    I’m going to see this movie at the non-profit theater that I volunteer at–how much more in the spirit of Michael Moore can that be? :)

  • RogerBW

    End-stage capitalism: the lap dance is no fun unless the stripper is crying.

  • I’m not sure I see this connection between this comment and my review. What am I missing?

  • RogerBW

    An awful lot of what other countries do that America doesn’t can be lined up under the general heading of “reducing people’s anxieties about life”. There is a deliberate attitude, much stronger in the USA than in most other places, that the workers need to be kept hungry (often literally), putting up with low wages and lousy working conditions because being unemployed is So Much Worse, and there are twenty other people waiting to step in and take their job if they make any sort of fuss.
    In other words, people are meant to be on edge. They are meant to worry that if they lose their job and aren’t in perfect health they will lose their houses to pay medical bills, then die. That is not an unfortunate side effect of not having enough tax money to pay for health care, it is part of the plan.
    And obviously when that attitude becomes ascendant it favours the sort of person who likes thinking that way. Who enjoys going to a strip joint where the girls are working not because they want to, but because they can’t get a better job and anything else is going to be so very much worse.
    (This is not just the USA, of course; the UK political class has been trying to implement it here too for the last twenty years or so, and it’s starting to take.)

  • Bluejay

    That’s… an awful lot of backstory to make your original comment make sense. :-)

  • Ah. Yes. Agree completely.

  • LaSargenta

    Uh, I must be equally cynical ’cause I got it immediately.


  • Maria Niku

    Well, Moore is not strictly correct that there’s no homework in Finnish schools. At least my nephews, 11 and 16, seem to do homework quite regularly :-)

    But yes, the message of American exceptionalism tends to irk me. I realize it’s a message meant for the home audience, but still…

  • Patrick

    I just got back from seeing this and I have to say: Michael Moore goes out of his way to tacitly make the U.S. seem like hell on earth compared to some of these idyllic countries–and he has a point. He’s basically taken the Canada
    ‘here’s-what-they’re-doing-better-than-us’ sequence in “Bowling for
    Columbine” and expanded into a full motion picture and quite effectively too. It was a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours, but ultimately, I became very depressed afterwards. How has America become such a nasty piece of work? I asked my baby boomer parents (who saw it with me) where things changed and their reply was one word: Reagan.

    As for the film itself: it’s the most didactic of MM’s docs and there’s the least amount of stock footage use (which I usually love). The humor’s more wry and it doesn’t have the gut busting moments of his earlier work. In fact I missed a lot of his acerbic pokes in the eye of the American establishment. Here, he’s being more coy. But, I’m glad Moore still making movies. This country would be in worst shape if he didn’t.

  • Patrick

    Also, it was smart on Moore’s part to include the cost effectiveness angle here that gives any fence sitters something to consider. Kindness and humanity saves money? Who knew?

  • Tonio Kruger


  • Tonio Kruger

    I must be too idealistic for my own good because the first thing I thought of when I read that post was this dubious musical effort:


  • LaSargenta

    Fortunately, I seem to be having problems with my YouTube app and can’t load that…


  • Tonio Kruger

    Given the way that song’s lyrics seems to touch almost every point of bad taste imaginable, that might be a blessing in disguise.

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