Monday, October 12, 2009

"Capitalism: A Love Story" Review

It's a shame that I almost didn't see "Capitalism: A Love Story," or rather, begrudgingly saw it out of obligation, because the film reminded me why I once fervently defended Michael Moore as a filmmaker. Between his sardonic sense of humor and his mixed-media aesthetic, dredging everything from educational film strips to YouTube videos to his own back catalogue up onto the screen, he puts together a hell of an entertaining documentary. But invoking Moore's name today elicits about the same reaction as Sarah Palin's; you get a "Oh, that nut," look. The idea of him conjures a smoky, megaphoned muckraker shouting on the steps of the capital at whoever will listen.

And okay, there is an element of that to "Capitalism," but it only serves as a requisite slice of the pie. It's the footage that's being played almost exclusively in the trailers (Moore attempting a citizen's arrest on Wall Street CEOs and papering the buildings with crime scene tape), but where the film plays these scenes for ironic laughs, they come across as pompous and grandstanding in the ads. The concept of selling an audience on the most audacious aspect of a film is hardly a new one, but in this case it may only reinforce the negative stereotypes associated with Moore's politics.

The usual suspects do make brief cameos, namely George Bush Jr. and Dick Cheney, but since leaving office, Moore has come to view them as harmless caricatures rather than legitimate liabilities. If he can squeeze a laugh out of the audience in comparing Cheney to a Roman emperor, that seems to suffice. Politics in general take a backseat in "Capitalism," but expectedly remain a vocal backseat driver. His opinion is as ubiquitous as always, and if "Fahrenheit 9/11" labeled him a terrorist among his detractors, than "Capitalism" will undoubtedly add socialist to his loathsome repertoire.

In truth, Moore simply takes a blue-collar stance on the economic issue, with a grass roots approach to examining the effects of the collapse. He trains his lens on families whose homes have been foreclosed, spouses whose partners have made giant corporations millions through their death in what's colloquially known as "dead peasant" policies, and teenagers who have served prolonged and undeserved sentences in juvenile hall to boost the profits of the independently run facilities.

The film ends on a dour personal note for Moore, who suggests he can't continue pushing issue films without the support of his viewers in setting right his outlined wrongs. I took that statement with a grain of salt until I remembered a story that broke about two months back, the seemingly unprecedented news that documentary filmmaker Michael Moore was considering directing two narrative films. It remains to be seen whether his futile attempts at political impact have really worn him down, or whether the topical well is simply running dry, but "Capitalism: A Love Story" proves that the man still has a sustainable artistic vision.

And perhaps the most significant triumph of "Capitalism" is its accomplishments as its own film. Moore doesn't rest on his laurels or harp on his past successes, he constructs his film like he always has. His reuse of "Roger & Me" footage is well integrated, and his clout actually adds a new layer to the security guards' tired delivery of "It's Michael Moore, the documentary filmmaker," when radioing their superiors. If I have a gripe to this effect, it's that Flint, Michigan is almost becoming a punch line. Can we get through an hour and a half without Flint somehow sidling its way into the conversation?

If, like me, you're a relapsed Michael Moore fan, I still can't recommend "Capitalism" highly enough. The film won't win over any haters, but for the rest of us, it represents the auspicious director at the top of his game. I guarantee it's the most fun, accessible, and hilairious film you'll see about the collapse of the American economy.


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