Art installation All-Seeing Trump outside the IFC Theater in New York showing Michael Moore in TrumpLand Photograph: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images
It was in Ohio that Moore hastily put on the one-man show that the film records, a mix of a TED Talk and Spalding Gray-esque monologue in which he thinks through his misgivings about Hillary Clinton but ultimately works himself up into a froth of support. TrumpLand is a fascinating document, but undeniably awkward in presentation. A few of his jokes land, but Moore is hardly Chris Rock or Louis CK. Hes more like a good public radio DJ who can slip in an above-average zinger now and then.
Whats a little cringeworthy, though, is the repeated use of audience reaction shots. Every talking point is met with an assertive head nod, tissue-dabbed cheek or virtuous applause. Its like that Monty Python clip of the old ladies clapping, but twice as hilarious, unintentional though that may be.
Moore does get serious, and when he does, his Holy Roller for the ethical culture set schtick works. Moores feminist bona fides seem legit. His stage is dressed with photos of college-aged Hillary Rodham, and he plays a clip from her commencement address from Wellesley College. He argues that this is the real Clinton, not the woman who stood by a serial adulterer or who is too cosy with Wall Street. (Moore, who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, has been extremely critical of Clinton for this last point.) He compares her to Pope Francis, who remained silent during the years of the Argentinian junta, but who, once elected, unleashed a new era of liberalism in the Holy See.
Its a ridiculous argument, but that isnt the point. Moore doesnt want to tear Trump down so much as he wants to build Clinton up, and however much of a dingus he may be (some of his jokes really dont work), he is sincere in his optimism and empathy. Thats something that you just cant fake. When Moore talks about his mother, and the current sea change in the conversation about rape culture, he builds a strong case that is totally pro-Clinton, not anti-Trump. And, yes, there is a whole riff about the Vince Foster conspiracy theories, suggesting that Hillary is some sort of ninja assassin, that got a few belly laughs out of me.
Michael Moore in TrumpLand is not, unfortunately, likely to sway many voters. For all his good intentions, Moores unique blend of greasy palmed populism and hard-left truthbombs isnt what it takes to get a Trump voter to turn his or her dormant brain back on. The movie also takes a good long while to find its rhythm, which is very much a problem when its only got a 73-minute running time.
Youll have as much luck telling Michael Moore what to do as as someone in a Make America Great Again baseball cap, though, and if spending a few weeks before election day putting this together is what he thinks will work well, I guess Im With Him.