You gotta love Michael Moore, America’s Hardest Working Populist. “Bowling for Columbine” is as lovable. And just as sloppy.
It’s a movie as shambling as Moore’s own shuffle. It’s almost always entertaining and occasionally touching. It’s also incoherent, willing to sacrifice its argument for the sake of a righteous stunt.
It’s easy to be for gun control and against racism as this movie surely is. But it’s heartening to see a movie that also cares about little ol’ things like the way big companies casually get rich off of human misery and about the increasingly rigid class structure in the US. It’s good to have the argument over crime expanded to include a peek into the life of a single mom forced by welfare “reform” to abandon her 6 year old child for 12 hours a day.
And yet, “Bowling for Columbine” poses a focused question and squanders itself on stunts that work against its answer. For example, the single mom works for a restaurant chain owned by Dick Clark. The restaurant gets a tax break for hiring welfare recipients. So, Moore chases Clark down and gets the door slammed in his face when he presses Clark on why he hires welfare moms for lowing paying jobs. The chain of causes is getting pretty slack by the time we get to Clark. Is his crime paying minimum wage? Taking the tax credit offered him? Hiring people on welfare? Does Clark have some special obligation because he’s a celebrity? If not, then why pick on him instead of someone either abusing the system by paying less than minimum wage or someone responsible for voting in the hideous welfare “reform” act in the first place? Moore collects door slams the way others collect autographs.
He’s at his worst in the movie’s climactic encounter with Charleton Heston. Moore has labored to widen the context for understanding why America has so many murders by gun. If sometimes it seems like a stretch, on reflection the stretches often seem less stretchy: Yes, our willingness to launch missiles probably does have something to do with our casual attitude towards guns, for example. And Moore makes a special point of showing that the mere presence of guns can’t explain why so Americans shoot other Americans. In one of the most effective sequences, Moore visits Canada. a country with almost no gun violence even though it has 10M homes and 7M guns.
So, why pick on Charleton Heston? Yes, Heston has twice gone to communities to hold NRA rallies just weeks after horrendous gun murders. Despicable. But when Moore wangles an interview with Heston, we see a confused, pathetic old man being challenged by a thesis that Moore has already dismissed: that gun ownership accounts for gun murders. In fact, Heston gives the answer that Moore seems to favor: America has a history of violence. But that answer wouldn’t enable Moore to wave in Heston’s face a photo of a six year old shot to death by another six year old. Moore looks like a bully. In fact he exposes himself as worse than that. He seems terminally smug.
Self-righteous, scolding, self-contradictory, rambling, predictable? Sure. But also entertaining, brave, hilarious, truthful and touching. We forgive Michael Moore his excesses because we need him so badly.