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Fahrenheit 11/9

(2018) *** R
125 min. Briarcliff Entertainment. Director: Michael Moore. Cast: Michael Moore, Donald Trump.

/content/films/5128/1.jpgPatton Oswalt speaks for most comedians (and journalists…and humans) when it comes to discussing Donald Trump: “People tell me, ‘You comedians must be so happy. Trump is president. All this free material.’ You know what, yes, there is a lot of material, but…it’s exhausting…I can make fun of [what] he did the last couple of days, but by the time it airs, you guys are going to be like, ‘Wait, what was that again?’” Now, imagine you’re the liberal lion of documentary film, Michael Moore. How do you take aim at the ultimate moving target? With his new essay film Fahrenheit 11/9, Moore’s approach is to ask and answer “how the fuck did this happen?”, and what should liberals should do about it?

Moore’s unabashedly partisan audio-visual op-ed begins with a black-comic recount of election eve and election night, the 11/9/2016 alluded to in the title (also a self-reference to Moore’s highest-grossing film, 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11). We see the sad deflation of Clinton supporters as the election turns and the victory partiers listen on repeat to Rachel Platten’s feminist anthem “Fight Song,” then Moore scores Trump’s surprise win—shocking no one more than Trump himself—to “Vesti la giubba,” the crying-clown aria from Pagliacci. Moore has a keen comic sensibility, and the current situation proves ripe for his satire.

But the greater impression of Fahrenheit 11/9 is its dire accounting of the corruption of the Republican Party, the sell-out centrism of the Democratic Party, and the victimization of working-class Americans, emblematized by the criminal poisoning of tens of thousands in Moore’s home town of Flint, Michigan under Michigan’s Republican governor Rick Snyder, positioned by Moore as a role model for Trump’s “autocratic” get-away-with-anything tactics. Flint has been the most consistent character in Moore’s films, beginning with his debut Roger & Me, which explored the betrayal of the city by General Motors (the automaker cameos in Fahrenheit 11/9 as a hissable beneficiary of Snyder’s crony capitalism).

Perhaps it’s Trump fatigue, but Moore’s material on the 45th President has a fraction of the impact of the enraging Flint story. Unapologetically, wittily employing propaganda techniques, Moore quickly catalogs everything hateful about Trump (the misogyny, the racism, the rollbacks of civil rights and environmental protections, et al) and takes a cheap shot in an unnecessarily prolonged montage on Trump’s lasciviousness toward his own daughter Ivanka. Even some liberals will feel he goes a bit far there, although the most in-your-face passage outlines the fascist tendencies of Trump, drawing extensive parallels to Hitler (in case anyone might mistake this film as being for Trump supporters).

Moore also takes shots at the Clintons, Obama, and himself, but the film isn’t so much the angry screed many might expect as much as it’s an urgent call to action. Moore champions “the fighting spirit” of grassroots progressivism, highlighting new Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, her expected soon-to-be-colleague Rashida Tlaib, and David Hogg and the Parkland, Florida students now mobilized for voting drives and gun-control advocacy. In this way, Fahrenheit 11/9 feels like a deliberate answer to the old chestnut that films like this only “preach to the choir” instead of reaching across the aisle. Moore knows he’s preaching to the choir: in the face of 100 million disenfranchised non-voters, he wants to stoke righteous anger and get like-minded people in the streets, in the voting booths and, better yet, on the ballots.

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