Time to try my hand at a New Yorker-style capsule review.
AKA: LOOK EDITORS I CAN WRITE THEM TOO NOW PLEASE HIRE ME!!!!!!
Sorry, where was I?
Ah yes, capsule-reviewing a new documentary that also never knows where it is, nor where it wants to go:
Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 (the title is the best part) is an incoherent, narratively-muddled mess, connected by little more than a “here’s everything wrong with America” thesis, a framework that could work in theory, but a clear target — missing here — is essential; without it, the excessively-verbose runtime drags and drains. Often trying to be comprehensive results in being incomprehensible.
There’s a difference between a documentarian and a rambler. Documentaries can ramble, of course, but the ramblings should be structured in a way that enhances them. A rambler, on the other hand, is basically the dude on the street corner babbling about all the world’s ills, or your off-the-rails drunk uncle spouting random nonsense at your family reunion. Some of these tidbits may be legitimately insightful, but that doesn’t make the sum of the arguments even remotely cogent.
Parts of Fahrenheit 11/9 are compelling, because Moore still retains fragments of his former young, scrappy, and hungry documentarian talents; he manages to slice through the form’s traditionally-stuffy aesthetics with an affable and breezy approach that can transform heavy subject matters into entertainingly-light fare, without minimizing the life-or-death sociopolitical importance. But where his earlier work was lean and streamlined and to the point, he now just churns out bloated, fragmentary works.
Fahrenheit 11/9 adds up to nothing more than a hodgepodge grab-bag patchwork of American political malpractice, a tableau so broad as to require a specifically-framed canvass to cohesively probe it. There’s a difference between asking, and thus trusting, the audience to connect the dots for themselves, and making them do your work for you. Anyone with a conscience will obviously respond to bits and pieces of the harrowing focus here, but documentaries, by their factual nature, easily elicit emotional reactions; nonfiction, especially concerning such urgent topics, will hopefully always wield that power.
But such triggering doesn’t mean the brandisher of the gun pulled the trigger effectively. Michael Moore’s shooting blanks; some of his shards pierce the skin, but he fails to finish the job. Is there an aim here other than outrage and disgust? Anyone can list off a litany of American problems right now; since that’s all Fahrenheit 11/9 accomplishes, it’s basically the cinematic equivalent of a viral, virulent Twitter thread, with each sequence doubling as individual posts boasting little logic to their sequencing other than the wandering mind of the creator.
In that sense, Fahrenheit 11/9 is definitely a reflection of 2018: Moore views himself as shining a light on the ugliness of this moment, when in fact his directionless approach is actually just another example of a common misstep of the times.
With both this and his recent one-man show on Broadway, Michael Moore is becoming the stark raving madman his detractors always somewhat unfairly and reductively painted him to be.
And much like Fahrenheit 11/9, this “capsule” review ended up way longer than expected, and than necessary.