Director delivers October surprise

by Ann Hornaday

Michael Moore has given his fans an unexpected gift in the form of “Michael Moore in TrumpLand,” a concert film of a pro-Hillary monologue that he performed, filmed, cut together and released in a scant 11 days.

Propelled by Moore’s familiar combination of righteous fury, irreverent humor and practiced Everyman persona, the film is a fitfully engaging, unevenly entertaining enterprise that reflects the hurry-up nature of its production. Although Moore clearly perceives “TrumpLand” to be his own version of an October surprise, it’s less game-changing than reassuring, especially to left-leaning voters, some of whom may still be having trouble casting a vote for a candidate they see as fatally centrist, corporation-friendly and untrustworthy.

Delivered in Wilmington, Ohio, Moore’s act is part lecture, part performance art, as the filmmaker and activist welcomes a crowd composed of all political stripes, then launches into a satirical critique of Donald Trump’s candidacy. A group of “Mexican-looking” audience members is sequestered behind a faux-brick wall; Muslim attendees also sit together, the better for them to be surveilled.

It’s all staged to make the Trump fans in the crowd “feel more comfortable,” says Moore, whose good-natured patter only partly belies the bitterness that lies beneath it. After explaining away Trump’s appeal by pretending to bemoan the impending extinction of “angry white guys,” then mounting an essentialist argument about why women are more enlightened, peaceable leaders, he leaves the rostrum to sit at a desk, where he reads from a far more convincing essay on Trumpism as a “Molotov cocktail” being thrown into a political structure that has systematically betrayed the working class. Should Trump be elected on Nov. 8, he shouts, it will be “the biggest f— you ever recorded in human history.”

After a few ill-conceived video skits and more than a few cutaways to the uncomfortable-looking crowd, Moore gets to his real mission, which is to make his audience warm up to Hillary Clinton, a woman who gave up her own ambitions – even her own name – to help her husband’s political career, only to be humiliated and hated when she tried to spearhead health-care reform during his presidency.

What follows is a spirited defense of a woman Moore insists he has come to adore, even though he voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary. He makes a persuasive case. In an impressive bout of wishful thinking, Moore suggests that Hillary’s compromises and triangulation are part of a lifetime of playing a leftist long game.

What’s more, as in so many Michael Moore films, “TrumpLand” has a way of constantly looping back to Moore himself, whether it’s a self-serving digression about being a guest at the White House or concluding with his own presidential campaign promises, should Hillary not fulfill his own inflated hopes for her.

“Michael Moore in TrumpLand” is a lot like the titular raconteur himself: passionate, shambolic, equal parts inspiring and irritating. Whether the filmmaker will change any minds is open to question. But now that we’ve received the kind of cinematic pamphlet Moore has built a career perfecting, the election season seems somehow more complete.

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