Imagine an informercial, but - instead of steak knives and stain-proof trousers - this one's selling nothing less than The Great Society itself.
You’ve got your host, Michael Moore, waddling his way from one set piece to the next and reacting with staged incredulity to every deal or reveal ("you get HOW MUCH annual leave in Italy!?”). Then there are the interviewees, not strictly ‘scripted’, but painstakingly selected to ensure they provide every piece of tantalising information without any of the fine print or shortcomings. And, finally, the offer: “Act NOW to adopt the Norwegian penitentiary system and we’ll throw in Finnish tertiary studies ABSOLUTELY FREE!’.
The thing is, unlike so many of those late night absurdities, this one’s genuinely enticing.
The premise of Moore’s latest documentary is a simple one: America hasn’t won a war since WWII, so he’s giving the US Armed Forces a well-earned stand down order and is instead single-handedly invading countries to steal the things America’s most desperately in need of: France's healthy school lunches, Germany's recognition of past national atrocities, and - from Italy - responsible working conditions. Yes, Moore's selective in his ‘spoils of war’, only showing us the instances where such programs work, but as a model for better government, better business…better living - it’s a forgivable choice.
Unlike many of Moore's previous films (Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Capitalism: A Love Story), there's a refreshing absence of cynicism in Where To Invade Next. Even with the overarching message of: 'look how much better than us the world does these things', it nonetheless reminds us throughout that so many of those initiatives were born in America and, with just a little legislative courage, could easily be reintroduced to sudden and sweeping effect.
‘Greed’, unsurprisingly, is identified by Moore as the chief source of America's ills in this film, and it’s no grand revelation that the privatisation of prisons, schools and healthcare invariably precipitates a clash between ‘value’ and ‘values’. However, as Moore seeks to (and largely does) prove, a healthy and educated society where welfare is considered a strength rather than an embarrassment is, in the long run, both a cheaper AND a more productive one.
Moore’s trademark one-liners, musical gags and, for want of a better term, ‘clowning’, repeatedly threaten to distract (or even detract) from his message, but thankfully he demonstrates enough reserve throughout to let the compelling facts largely speak for themselves. And they are compelling, speaking directly to many of the same shortcomings in Australia that few would deny are in need of significant redress. Most notable of these are Norway's humane, respectful treatment of incarcerated criminals to combat recidivism, and Iceland’s massively increased female representation at the executive level across both business and politics. This is a film that shows you how things can be done better, and compels you to ask why it’s not already the case.