Michael Moore’s unexpected new film, “Michael Moore in TrumpLand,” is a recording of his recent one-man stage show in Wilmington, Ohio, where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump soundly beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the state primary. What’s unexpected about Moore’s film is not its content — it’s basically an impassioned plea to vote Clinton — but the fact that it is in theaters at all.
The film’s release was announced Tuesday afternoon, and it began playing a one-week run in Manhattan and Los Angeles on Wednesday. It’s a cinematic October surprise, although it’s hardly explosive and seems unlikely to influence any outcome. At its best, Moore’s stage show is a sincere attempt to reach across the proverbial aisle — one that has become frighteningly wide in past weeks. At its worst, though, it’s an unofficial Clinton campaign ad that even her supporters might find over the top.
Moore begins with a few sharp digs at the Trumpers in attendance by showing that he has thoughtfully segregated Muslim-Americans into their own section while all “Mexican and Mexican-looking” people are seated in a balcony behind a mock-brick wall. Then, however, Moore does something interesting: he tries to see the world from the other side.
In a short essay, Moore empathizes with the “righteous anger” of Trump supporters who feel cheated and marginalized by career Washingtonians like Clinton. Moore tends to brush them broadly as jobless Joe Blows, but at least it’s an effort to validate their views.
When Moore’s talk turns to Clinton, he lays it on thick. (He is speaking, by the way, before a backdrop of flattering photos of the Democratic presidential nominee.) Casting Clinton as a hardworking feminist is one thing, but comparing her to Pope Francis is a stretch. As for Moore’s fantasy that Clinton’s first days in office will be a blur of daring legislative acts, surely even her staunchest supporters wouldn’t buy that sales pitch.
“Michael Moore in TrumpLand” initially shows us occasional shots of skeptical Trump voters. By the film’s end, however, when Moore appears to have won over the roaring crowd, the doubters have disappeared. Where’d they go? They seem to have been marginalized again.