DIRECTED BY AND FEATURING
As a film critic, the difficult challenge is always to remove oneself from the review. A movie review should be about the movie, not the movie critic.
At least, that's the popular theory.
If you've been a reader of mine for any length of time, however, you already are chuckling. You recognize that on a semi-regular basis my own movie reviews are infiltrated by my own life experiences, my views on social justice, my social anxieties and my lengthy history as a poet and playwright that occasionally shows up as creative license within my film writing.
Truth be told, most of you appreciate this about me and you tell me this often.
It's how I write and it's why you read me.
I'm as much a film essayist as I am a critic, a film journalist who shares his cinematic journey through life with sprinklings of critical observation and occasionally spot-on opinions about movies classic and contemporary.
The same is true for Michael Moore.
Michael Moore is not, I've concluded, a documentarian. At one point, perhaps, but since those early years of George W. Bush's years in office Moore has largely allowed documentary filmmaking to go by the wayside in favor of becoming more of a cinematic essayist.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, really, though it seems to be becoming less interesting as the years go on. As long as you agree with his essential points, it's difficult to deny that Moore's films are well presented, entertaining, nicely choreographed and often laugh out loud funny while being simultaneously tragic.
The weird thing is that I miss the old Michael Moore who boldly swept into General Motors in "Roger & Me" and created the documentary masterpiece "Bowling for Columbine." THAT Michael Moore was a documentarian who blended in elements of surprise, entertainment, humor and humanity.
Since "Bowling for Columbine," however, Michael Moore's films have been driven by his own personal agenda so fully that even those who lean towards his beliefs, including this writer, are increasingly having a hard time taking his films seriously.
"Capitalism: A Love Story" isn't really bad film, just a disappointing one. This is Moore doing what Moore always does in films and, unfortunately, a great amount of it feels forced, manipulated, disingenuous and self-serving. It's an old argument, but it's one that has increasing relevance. Isn't it just a tad bit hypocritical for a millionaire filmmaker to speak about the evils of capitalism?
I don't begrudge Michael Moore being made wealthy on the blockbuster success of "Bowling for Columbine," an outstanding documentary worth of its success. What I begrudge is the biased lambasting of others who, like Michael, found a way to make the system work so that they could chase their hopes and dreams.
While Moore is blasting capitalism, "Capitalism: A Love Story" has a multi-million dollar budget and is being distributed by a major, admittedly smaller, Hollywood studio.
Isn't there a contradiction here somewhere?
Again, I can live with this contradiction. Why isn't it ever acknowledged, though?
These concerns aside, "Capitalism: A Love Story" is a well-rendered, nicely spoken and often poignant cinematic essay/faux documentary.
Moore, as biased a filmmaker as he is, skewers both political parties in "Capitalism: A Love Story," blasting the economic policies of both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan with equal enthusiasm. Moore fills "Capitalism: A Love Story" lessons in economics history that are involving, funny, infuriating and inspiring.
There are the obligatory scenes of Moore, who is far too recognizable at this point in his career to get away with it, storming into corporate offices to confront and demand accountability.
In fact, there are far too many of these scenes...a Moore staple that is growing a bit old.
Yet, alongside these scenes are devastating and convicting scenes about a corporate America that many people don't know about. For example, Moore films one widow who has discovered that her husband's employer had taken out a life insurance policy on her husband FOR the employer.
This is not uncommon.
Moore surveys other examples of corporate greed, legitimate examples, such as underpaid pilots living in food stamps and those who continue to scheme off the misfortune of others even through our economic crisis. Moore's examples are powerful, legitimate, true and resonant, yet it's hard not to think they'd be even more powerful if Moore would bother to dig deeper within the story.
It's easy to showcase the trauma and drama of a family experiencing foreclosure, but patly saying it's about corporate greed is just plain lazy journalism.
I've been homeless before. I've lived on the street and, you know what? It's a painful lesson, but I also had a role in how that manifested in my life and there were lessons I needed to learn along the way.
Is this always true? Of course not, but Moore never digs deeper into the family's story to find out what truly went wrong.
Thus, surfaces the biggest problem with Moore's films since "Bowling for Columbine"- Moore has infused "Fahrenheit 9/11," "Sicko" and now "Capitalism: A Love Story" with too much style over substance. In essence, Moore's films since "Bowling for Columbine" have been to filmmaking what the 2009 "Fame" is to Alan Parker's vastly superior 1980 original...pale, less satisfying imitations.
Fans of Michael Moore, especially those who resonate with his social and political ideology, will embrace "Capitalism: A Love Story" as yet another Moore masterpiece. Moore's naysayers are likely to simply shrug their shoulders and go "Bleh. That's just Michael. Who cares what he thinks?"
That's the unfortunate conclusion. Moore, whose film I would still give a modest recommendation for entertainment value alone, seems to have become wholly immersed in his role as political everyman for American society. "Capitalism: A Love Story" is too often centered on Michael's voice telling us what Michael thinks about what's happening to Michael's country and how wonderful Michael's country used to be and ought to be again.
A more accurate title, perhaps? "Michael Moore: I Love Myself and Here's What I think About Everything Else."
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic