October 7, 2008
Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Ratings (out of 5): ***
DVD (with extras): ***½
Michael Moore is a filmmaker/personality at war with himself. He clearly has an outsized ego -- as is evident by this new documentary, Slacker Uprising chronicling his "get out the vote" tour pre-election 2004, in which he is front and center all the way -- but he is also pretty clearly someone with a huge heart and a much-needed sense of anger at the state of things in Bush's America. Moore is one of those people, like Bill Maher, whom I agree with politically more often than not, who, especially in Moore's case, have undeniably done important work in provoking and spotlighting important issues, and yet I just as often find myself worried that their message is lost in a certain off-putting smugness and obnoxiousness. Moore is a heartfelt provocateur. Watching Slacker Uprising it was also hard for this progressive-minded viewer not to feel at war with myself about the film.
Slacker Uprising premiered for free on the internet in addition to being available rather cheaply on DVD; Moore gave up on making a profit on the film, budgeted at $2 million, in favor of getting his message out to the largest possible audience. However much the film may veer into "look at me I'm Michael Moore" terrain, it does also capture an under-appreciated movement which may not have quite pushed the balance of the '04 election, but nearly did -- and might very well make an even bigger difference in this year's Presidential election. By helping to get college students re-engaged, or engaged for the first time, with the political process, working to convince them that their vote and their time really can matter, Moore and many other like-minded organizations undeniably helped these "slackers" stop slacking when it came to voting.
But is the film itself worth watching or is it more simply a document of a time and place?
Slacker Uprising certainly looks and sounds terrific, this is no cheapie doc, but it's hard to even know how to fairly gauge the film: As a tool for inspiration, it probably succeeds. As a documentary of a movement in a specific time and place, it's worthy enough. As a film, it's... not much. Much of it consists of Moore speaking in front of rapt audiences nationwide; if you think of it as sort of a concert tour document, as if Moore was a political comedian, it might hold attention enough, but as a sort of Prairie Home Companion of agitprop, Slacker Uprising does become tiresome after awhile simply by sheer repetition.
It does perk up a bit in the conflict department when it depicts the angry, anti-Moore young Republicans who follow him around, too. Their portrayals of Moore are frankly predictable, appalling and simplistic. Basically Moore allows them to be interviewed then gives them enough rope (quite possibly there were more intelligent GOP-ers interviewed that were left out, but the comments reflect what I've read online in anti-Moore screeds, stuff along the lines of "he's a mental midget," "he's anti-American" and "he's a communist" -- that sort of real insightful analysis. One young conservative woman says people like him who don't support the president should be sent to Iraq to fight, which is ironic on about five levels) . In one of the film's best moments, Moore does an amusing schtick against these protestors as they try to shout out his speech. Controversy that then followed Moore as he is canceled or threatened with cancelation at several campuses after pressure from conservative legislators and donors.
There are also a few worthy musical numbers: Eddie Vedder's acoustic concert for the cause, where he sings a Cat Stevens song ("because he can't be here"); Steve Earle making an inspired speech before playing; REM makes a seemingly requisite but heartfelt appearance; passionate speeches by people who lost family members in Iraq and even some soldiers who are proud to serve and proud to support Moore, too.
Another highlight is Moore chastising journalists for not doing their job cutting through Bush administration propaganda about the war in Iraq, in a particularly energizing moment. I'd also never seen Moore's parodies of the egregious, infamous Swift Boat ads that helped take down Kerry, which take them even further
Overall, Slacker Uprising is really not a great film. It won't convert anyone, or even be seen by those who dislike Moore and support the president, so it'll end up preaching to the choir. But as an important document of the previous closely contested election, it may, with a new big election approaching, serve its purpose to get young voters out.
The DVD's extras are nice bonuses, in some ways more interesting than much of what made it into the final cut. In one deleted scene, Moore reads to an audience selections from "My Pet Goat," the kid's book made infamous by Bush on the morning of September 11. Also included is a bit more on the controversy surrounding Moore's ramen noodle giveaway (the protests about this seem a bit silly); "Crank Callling Pfizer: 212-573-1226"; and "Letter From the War Zone: Will They Ever Trust Us Again?"
Posted by cphillips at October 7, 2008 11:07 AM