A new film about the election by left-wing provocateur Michael Moore was screened in New York on Tuesday night, and according to Moore, should be making its way online soon. To call it a “documentary,” as some outlets have done, is not quite right: The 73-minute film is actually just a recording of Moore’s one-man stage show about Hillary Clinton, which he performed in front of a live audience—and a camera crew—in Wilmington, Ohio, in early October. As Moore told fans on Tuesday, editing and postproduction on the movie—which has more in common with a stand-up special than Moore’s previous films—were completed just a few hours before the premiere.
Based on the title—Michael Moore in TrumpLand—you might expect the movie to be made up of either grotesque scenes shot at Trump rallies or sympathetic interviews with downtrodden Trump supporters. It is neither. In fact, Trump barely comes up in the movie at all, as most of it is dedicated to Moore singing Clinton’s praises and trying to convince voters who are cool on her that she is actually an inspiring figure who is worth being excited about. Coming from Moore, who supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary, the message is supposed to come across as a patriotic call of duty: No matter how much you hate Hillary, Moore implores his audience, you should support her for the sake of the country.
During a Q&A after Tuesday’s screening, Moore said he and his producers deliberately recruited a mixed crowd to attend the performance, seeking out not only Hillary fans but also people who were thinking about voting for Trump and undecided voters. The arc of the film, insofar as it has one, revolves around audience members visibly warming to Moore’s words as the show goes on; whether it really happened that way in Wilmington or if the impression was created through the magic of editing is unclear.
Another thing that’s unclear: Why Moore decided to decorate his stage with ostentatiously attractive photos of a young Hillary Clinton. Moore gestures to them at one point in the show, while talking about how in his first book, Downsize This!, he devoted a chapter to his “forbidden love” for the then–first lady and referred to her in the opening sentence as a “hot shit-kickin’ feminist babe.” Moore then describes an encounter he had with the first couple at a White House event in the ’90s, during which both Clintons professed to be his No. 1 fans, and Hillary, according to Moore, insisted on talking to him for much longer than she was supposed to. (Moore closes this part of the show by making a joke about how, no, Hillary Clinton did not invite him up to the bedroom.)
The main takeaway of Michael Moore in TrumpLand is that Clinton is neither the monster nor the craven career politician that she has long been portrayed as in the media. After playing a clip of an idealistic and unapologetically liberal young Hillary speaking at her graduation ceremony at Wellesley College, Moore pleads with the skeptics in his audience to consider that maybe that Clinton is the real Clinton, and that maybe she has just been playing her cards close to the vest all these years. Maybe, Moore suggests, Clinton will unleash her true will on the country after her inauguration by signing a series of hard-left executive orders, including one that would require the Justice Department to prosecute all police officers who shoot unarmed black men. It’s an odd note to end on, considering the film is at least in part aimed at persuading undecided voters to support Clinton’s candidacy. It also highlights the movie’s fundamental conceptual flaw: Though billed as a confrontational act in the heart of Trump country, its actual intended audience seems to be Bernie Sanders supporters who Moore worries will stay home on Nov. 8. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but Michael Moore in TrumpLand it ain’t. Too bad—that sounds like it could have been a pretty good movie.