"I've turned into this kind of crazy optimist," Michael Moore admits in his new documentary Where to Invade Next, his first film in six years. At 61, the gadfly savant has mellowed. Instead of charging into rooms, he shuffles, the American flag wrapped around his shoulders like a grandmother's shawl.
The film opens like a sloppy stunt. Moore pretends that the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, wounded by their losses and pyrrhic victories in every war since Korea, have finally asked him for advice. How to put the world to rights? Replies Moore, "Instead of using Marines, use me." Then the doc bursts into a montage of American sins: bank scandals, wrongful convictions, murdered abortion doctors, housing foreclosures. It's like Moore's best-of album, remixed. His hits are hasty and scattered. Pretending he has the chance to discharge the Marines, is he just going to misfire his own shotgun?
Moore's conceit: He'll sail east on the USS Ronald Reagan to conquer Europe's best ideas. He visits the Continent's happier and more successful factories, schools and jails, where he literally plants the American flag and demands to take their innovations home. The Europeans awkwardly nod. Moore is curious about other countries' solutions to our seemingly permanent problems.
As Moore treks on, his question expands from "What does your country get right?" to "What concepts does America have wrong?" A few: First, Americans don't cooperate, we compete. Second, women are underrepresented in powerful positions. Third, Americans have stopped protesting. Finally, above all, Americans have stopped believing that change is possible -- the cynicism we're choking on is fatal.