Michael Moore broke onto the national scene with this screen screed against the automobile factory closings across his home town of Flint, Mich., in the late 1980s.
Right from the start, Moore’s knack for using comedy to illuminate injustice is nearly outweighed by his considerable flaws: a whiny narcissism, cheap-shot tactics and maddening tunnel vision. Even if you agree with Moore’s position – layoffs hurt people – you’re left wishing he had asked more intelligent questions about the larger social and economic forces at play. Instead, Moore takes aim at an easy target: General Motors chairman Roger Smith. Roger & Me is framed around Moore’s endless attempts to get an interview with Smith, but you get the feeling the filmmaker keeps hoping for more roadblocks (they hold more dramatic value than an actual sit-down would).
Smith is painted as the devil – and certainly his move toward foreign production, which the movie barely hints at, is a direct link to the layoffs. Yet Smith is just one cog in what is a crushing, capitalistic machine – a machine that’s far too complicated for a strident filmmaker such as Moore to consider. Moore fares better in simpler situations, as when he manages to get a number of auto executives on camera at a Great Gatsby-themed cocktail party. All gussied up in ridiculous flapper outfits and vintage tuxedoes, the guests sound even more like idiots when they claim that the slowly deteriorating Flint is “a great place to live.” If nothing else, Moore is valuable for starting necessary discussions in our greater cultural debate. The questions he inadvertently raises about corporate responsibility here are crucial ones. Moore may wield a maddeningly wavering spotlight, but at least he’s shining one.