Michael Moore in Trumpland

Never one to stay quiet in the midst of a heated political discussion, Michael Moore has weighed in on the 2016 presidential election with Michael Moore in TrumpLand. Sure, he’s already weighed in a bunch of times through other venues — as Moore likes to point out, he correctly predicted earlier than most that Donald Trump would win the Republican primary. But now the filmmaker gets to offer his two cents in the form of a film.

Or rather, a filmed version of a one-man show. Michael Moore in TrumpLand is essentially a concert film, shot during his performance in Wilmington, Ohio earlier this month. The most surprising thing about it, though, is that despite the title TrumpLand isn’t really about Donald Trump. Rather, it’s an impassioned, if not entirely effective, case for Hillary Clinton. 

In terms of its format, Michael Moore in TrumpLand is halfway between a standup act and a lecture. Moore starts out at a lectern, doling out wisdoms like “if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” (Moore delivers a lot of arguments that will sound familiar to a lot of people in a way that suggests he thinks he’s the first to come up with them. But then again, the guy he says this line to looks surprised and delighted, so maybe to that guy it’s new.) Throughout the rest of the show he moves around other sets onstage including a desk and an armchair, with a couple of gimmicky video segments cut in. As a show, it’s never dull, but it’s not always convincing, either.

While Moore takes a couple shots at Trump, the “TrumpLand” of the title is really less a reference to the man himself than to “Trump country” — the large swaths of the U.S. where Trump seems like the obvious and inevitable choice. Moore’s target audience is people he sees as being like himself: white middle- and lower-middle-class Midwesterners who are outraged by the injustices they’ve suffered at the hands of that system. Within that population, he wants to connect to a wide variety of folks: those already in the bag for Clinton, those still bummed about Bernie Sanders’ loss, those contemplating third-party candidates or just abstaining altogether, and, yes, those planning to punch the ticket for Trump.

Unfortunately, those populations can make for odd bedfellows. Moore starts his show by promising to meet Trump voters halfway, pointing to a segregated “Mexican” section with a wall behind it and another segregated “Muslim” section monitored by an unarmed drone. It’s obviously a joke on Trump’s actual proposals, and the people in those sections are likely actors who knew exactly what they were getting into. Still, it’s uncomfortable to watch a bunch of white people laughing at a gag in which people of color are treated as props, and Trump’s racism as simply silly, rather than horrifying.

Michael Moore in TrumpLand

By the end of the show, Moore is talking up Clinton’s feminist bonafides and speculating that she might turn out to be much more progressive than she appears. He goes so far as to fantasize about the kind of executive orders she might sign during her first 100 days in office: prosecuting police who kill unarmed black men, outlawing high-fructose corn syrup, releasing non-violent drug offenders from prison. Not only does this liberal-tilted argument seem unlikely to win over the disgruntled white male Trump voters he was courting in the first part of the show, it seems to set up actual progressives for disappointment.

Of course, Moore has an answer for that, too, declaring that if Clinton’s first term is a letdown, he will personally run for office. Like the rest of his movie, his platform is a mix of silly and serious. Under a Moore presidency, he says, corporations will not be people and Monsanto and Wells Fargo will be our new enemies. Also, every American will get a free banana split on Independence Day and the new national anthem will be “We Are the Champions.”

And maybe that’s the problem. Moore seems to view himself as uniquely positioned to speak to the segment of the population tempted by Trump’s siren call, and he’s not really wrong — those voters are more likely to listen to him than they are to someone like me. But discordant notes strike when he can’t seem to stop making it about him. He claims he’s not a natural fit for the Clinton camp, but devotes an untoward amount of time on an anecdote about the time he met the Clintons and they lavished him with praise. He throws out assertions like “nobody’s excited about Clinton,” when in fact there are plenty of people excited about Clinton — just not, I guess, people he knows. TrumpLand is positioned as an “October surprise,” as Moore himself likes to remind us, but it may have been more effective, say, four months and 8 million thinkpieces ago.

In the Q&A that followed my screening, Moore explained that his goal with TrumpLand was less about changing minds than about boosting voter turnout by getting the liberal base excited about Clinton. Even from that perspective, though, TrumpLand seems unlikely to have big results. Moore’s sincerity is never in doubt, and neither is his horror at the possibility of a Trump White House. He deserves credit for making a concentrated effort to get out the vote. TrumpLand seems unlikely to do any harm to his cause, and if it helps get a few extra people to the polls on November 8, the effort may well turn out to be worth it. But without a focused target in mind, TrumpLand never really clicks as either a comedy or as a political argument.

/Film rating: 6.0 out of 10

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