The big question I had while watching Michael Moore In Trumpland was whether or not the veteran documentarian would be preaching to the choir with his latest release, and as I write this now I still don’t have an answer. Filmed over two nights earlier this month in front of a live crowd featuring democrats, republicans, and undecided voters in a Trump-loving county in Ohio, Moore’s first concert film makes an earnest case for Hillary Clinton despite being wildly uneven. It’s as topical as any film could hope to be, but what you get out of it will largely depend on your political stance and how familiar you are with the current presidential candidates.
After opening with a few self-deprecating jokes, Moore turns his focus to current events and hot button issues in the United States. He may lack the creativity of George Carlin and the comedic wit of a Bill Maher or Jon Stewart, but his material is good more often than not. There are moments where punchlines border on hack comedy, such as Moore’s depiction of angry white men internally screaming about the realization that women are now everywhere, but within two or three minutes a new topic is introduced and the performance finds its footing once again.
The latter half of the concert film is more or less a passionate buildup to Moore’s announcement that he will be voting for Hillary Clinton. It’s a well-reasoned argument, albeit not a constantly entertaining one. Compared to the material found in literally anything else Moore has released, the content found in Trumpland is surprisingly tame, and his decision to keep multimedia or infographics to an absolute minimum makes for an increasingly dull watch. There is one extended sequence in particular where Moore reads an open letter while sitting behind a desk. The camera intercuts tight and wide shots of Moore with quick glances at audience members sitting largely still. It’s hard to tell if they’re contemplating the words being said or if they’re patiently waiting for something funny to happen again, but they’re definitely present in the moment.
Moore claims to have spent the better part of 11 months writing the material in Trumpland, but to see him deliver his one-man show you might not know it at first. His excitement to perform overtakes the cadence of his speech early on, but as the crowd begins to loosen up he settles into a rhythm of jokes and factoids that do not glamorize the Democratic candidate for the President of the United States as much as they make a compelling argument for people to apply logic to the current election cycle. Moore himself has never voted for a Clinton before, but when weighing the pros and cons of the two main contenders he sees no other path to success. “I don’t want her to be my friend,” Moore says, “I want them not to like her on Capitol Hill. I want the people she’s negotiating with not to like her.”
While I don’t recommend that Michael Moore fully transition from documentary filmmaker to stand-up comedian anytime soon, I do applaud the aging storyteller for taking a risk and showcasing another side of himself with Trumpland. There is something special about watching an argument for one candidate over the other that relies on virtues rather than the headline-grabbing drama that fills our daily news feeds. This special was recorded before the now infamous tape of Trump bragging about his ability to grope women with Billy Bush went public, so that may explain this to some extent, but I like to believe Moore is consciously choosing to take the high road. There has been more than enough mud-slinging in this election. If nothing else, Trumpland offers a fresh perspective that could (but probably won’t) change minds.