In Michael Moore’s (“Where to Invade Next”) latest project, a sneak attack of a film released only 11 days after being produced, Moore travels to Wilmington, Ohio — a single town surrounded by Clinton country that overwhelmingly favors Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Once there, Moore performs a one-man show that feels like a cross between stand-up comedy and a TED talk: the sort of thing ripe with the kind of sound bites that flood Facebook feeds.
If you came to “Michael Moore in TrumpLand” — as I did — expecting a dig into the core of Trump’s evil, or a profile of his supporters, or an examination of his rise to power, you’ll be disappointed. This isn’t a documentary about Trump. And aside from some disjointed quotes that open the film, it isn’t about his supporters, either — rather, it’s a love letter to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
The biggest surprise of “TrumpLand” is just how unsurprising it actually is. Moore is perhaps the tamest he’s ever been. He’s far from the provocateur he normally is, despite material that feels so ripe for provocation. It’s odd, and a little disappointing. There’s even a hint of tenderness in Moore’s voice when he tries — almost earnestly — to empathize with Trump supporters. The particular supporters that he addresses are those of the upper Midwest — former members of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania’s middle class populace who were hit hard by the automobile industry crisis and 2008 recession. His analysis of their support is one of a few moments in the film that feels like a small revelation, even if it’s prior knowledge.
Moore stands on stage, for the entirety of his performance, in front of large black and white photographs of a young Hillary Clinton. It’s interesting, if not a little weird, just like the ode he spins to her in the latter half of the film. Despite its oddities, the picture he paints of her is — to quote from Moore’s 1996 book “Downsize This!” — one of a “shitkickin’ feminist babe.” He understands her enough to understand her flaws, her stoicism and her patient rise to the top. He draws comparisons to Pope Francis and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He plays a sound clip of her graduation address to her classmates at Wellesley College, in which her message is clear, but her voice shakes, as if to prove her humanity.
“TrumpLand” is very much like a stand-up special in that it has a sort of “you really had to be there” quality to it. Moore is funny, but his humor requires the supplement of an audience. It’s exactly the sort of thing that can’t make you laugh out loud if you watch it alone.
What “TrumpLand” might suffer from (and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this) is a lack of Trump. The film premiered in New York on October 18 at the same time the news of the Trump tapes was breaking and blowing up. Of course Moore could not know then what we all know now. But in light of that news, it still seems odd not to use that platform to condemn him.
And it’s just that oddity that’s the problem with this entire election. Why can’t we elect Hillary Clinton because of her merits, her qualifications, her passion or her goodness and not because of her opponent’s evils? What Moore uncovers, almost accidentally, is that even without Trump as her foil, Hillary holds her own as one of the most resilient, compassionate and badass figures in modern politics.