Michael Moore typically takes five to seven years between his films, presumably because his feature-length essays take a while to conceive, shoot, and assemble. So it’s especially surprising to see a Moore film hitting theaters and the internet less than a year after his last project. Michael Moore In TrumpLand was completed and surprise-released just this week, and rather than sending Moore all over the country (or world, as in his recent Where To Invade Next), it plants him in a single location: Wilmington, Ohio, a Trump-supporting town in a swing state. This is essentially a concert film, compiled from two nights of appearances at the Murphy Theatre in Wilmington, where Moore brought in a mixture of Hillary Clinton supporters, disgruntled Bernie Sanders fans willing to vote third party or not at all, and (supposed) potential Donald Trump voters to fill out the audience. The diverse crowds then listened to Moore monologue about the upcoming election.
Moore himself was a Sanders supporter in the primaries and is upfront about that—and about his current support of Clinton. But he starts with an attempt to understand the mind-set of the Trump voter beyond the usual (and valid) charges of racism and nationalism, digging into what he calls a “righteous, justifiable anger” at our political system while also goofing a little on both conservatives and liberals. It’s amusing in the early section of the film to see a filmmaker often accused of cherry-picking footage or statistics instead cherry-picking stone-faced reaction shots from crowd members unamused by Moore’s shtick.
To be fair, some of these grim visages could also belong to lefty supporters, because Moore’s stand-up comedy skills are not especially polished. He’s a blustering, sputtering, overselling deliverer of jokes both amusing (praising oft-maligned millennials: “You change the ink cartridges on our printers!”) and lame (prop-comedy bits about segregating Mexicans and Muslims in the audience to mock-appease Trump supporters). But when Moore grows passionate about what he sees as the essential decency of Hillary Clinton, he transcends his limits as a raconteur and jokester—and the jokes start to come easier, too, as with a riff on ridiculous conspiracies painting Clinton as a murderer, or his musings on how few women seem to be as trigger-happy as their male counterparts (“When a woman shoots her husband or boyfriend, usually some thought has gone into it”).
Moore also contributes a couple of dopey video pieces to his mostly solo act, but he does better when he digs through the archives. There’s a 1998 clip of Trump praising the Clintons in language that would seem awfully foreign and maybe even treasonous to his most rabid followers and, more moving, a brief audio excerpt from a young Hillary Clinton’s graduation speech at Wellesley College. In general, he tries to cut through anti-Hillary hype with positivity, even trying to lead by example by saying three nice things about George W. Bush as a warm-up for the crowd to say nice stuff about Clinton.
Perhaps owing to the energy of its rushed release, TrumpLand has an immediacy not always present in Moore’s more ambitious, sprawling, and sometimes scattered documentary work. There’s also an unfortunate technical hurriedness to go along with that immediacy. The cutting together of two nights’ worth of footage, so common in concert films, has visible seams here, with antsy cuts and uneven audio tones. This 73-minute speech isn’t really much of a movie, and as advocacy it’s unlikely to reach Trump-leaning voters. But as a case for Clinton aimed at third-party supporters who are convinced they couldn’t stomach casting a ballot for her, it might turn a few heads.