Michael Moore is back behind and in front of the camera for his first film in six years. The baseball capped antagonist visits several countries across Europe to see their approaches to issues including commerce, education, crime and healthcare, hoping to bring home ways to improve the American way of life.
After reinventing what the documentary form was capable of with 2002’s Bowling For Columbine, Moore’s heavy-handedness and penchant for the spotlight led to a decline after the much-hyped but disappointing Fahrenheit 9/11. This new piece finds him in a more playful mood, with lots of shots of perplexed Europeans struggling to understand the way Americans structure their lives, from contented Italian workers baulking at the idea of less than eight weeks’ paid holiday, or French children wincing at US high school lunch options.
Of course, it doesn’t stay that way. While it’s part travelogue, it’s also an investigation into the ideals of American capitalism versus global community-mindedness. An animated graphic (hey, it’s a Michael Moore film) hammers home the true value of the American tax dollar, and there’s an uncomfortable penchant for using victims to underline points, such as an interview with a Norwegian father who lost his son during the Oslo shootings.
Many of the officials interviewed preach the importance of human dignity, from prisoners to presidents, and examples such as Iceland’s boardroom gender equality are hard not to admire. It’s also quirkily patriotic, pointing out that these innovations were originally American ideas. Moore ends with a confession that he is a political optimist, making this less a condemnation and more a statement of hope.
Is it objective? Of course not. As Moore says, he’s there to “pick the flowers, not the weeds”, so the destinations he visits are cherry-picked to show up American society. Nevertheless, Moore is back to asking questions rather than composing diatribes.
If anyone was crying out for a follow-up to tepid ensemble rom-coms Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, you’re in luck.
Mother’s Day (12A) | Dir. Garry Marshall | ★☆☆☆☆
Mother’s Day follows a similar pattern to its predecessors, telling several interweaving stories about life, love and family issues, this time from a mother’s perspective.
Taking very similar plots and shifting around the stars, it’s an agonisingly sickly couple of hours. We have Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Julia Roberts gurning their way through sit-com style conundrums that completely ignore the true joys and trials of motherhood. Instead we have a saccharine mess that will only appeal to those interested in seeing Aniston and Roberts share the screen.
The Boss (15) | Dir. Ben Falcone | ★★☆☆☆
Melissa McCarthy turns the air blue as the foul-mouthed former CEO who uses her former assistant (Kristin Wiig) to help her bounce back after serving jail time for insider trading.
As with Tammy, her previous collaboration with director/husband Ben Falcone, the film relies on the strength of McCarthy's presence, which is considerable, given this is a character she’s been developing for decades. But without an interesting place to take her, it’s just 90 minutes of insults and prat-falls. Some of them work, particularly the slow motion Girl Scout fight, but the laughs don’t come regularly enough to dispel the notion that you’re watching the Bridesmaids star strangle a thin premise.