Finding the personal in the political — and making it pop — has been Michael Moore’s brand since his breakout 1989 debut Roger & Me. Fahrenheit 11/9 feels sort of like a survey course in Moore-ness, or a greatest hits; the title alludes to the day-after-tomorrow reckoning of the 2016 election, but Donald Trump is mostly a touchstone (or a lodestar, if you will) for a chatty, discursive trip through current events, from the Flint water crisis to the West Virginia teachers’ strike.
As such, it feels like both the best and worst of his approach as a filmmaker. There’s the urge to go for reductive, grabby headlines: You may have seen the attention the movie has already generated for claiming that Gwen Stefani spurred Trump’s presidential run; it’s a fun hook, and it makes about as much sense as 27 other theories. (He also works a few cheap tricks with Hitler imagery that feel far too winky for their very real implications.)
And as always, there’s the sense that Moore is preaching to the choir; even if you’re already wearing the robes and holding the songbook, you can’t help wishing he’d reach a little further across the aisle. But when he’s good — as in the segments with the student activists of Stoneman-Douglas High School and the lead-poisoning victims in Michigan — he is very, very good. He also turns the force of his critique more than squarely on himself (mostly for his too-friendly treatment of future combatants like Jared Kushner and Kelly Anne Conway), and doesn’t flinch from sacred cows; former President Barack Obama comes in for a particularly harsh rebuke in his confounding handling of Flint.
Mostly, Fahrenheit aims to educate, entertain, and congratulate its audience for being smart enough to land on the right (left) side. What sticks, though, is the larger message the movie delivers in its call to private citizens on public service: Run, vote, care. Yes, it’s easy to despair. But it’s possible, and so much more empowering, to fight back. B