Film review: Roger & Me

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 10 2002 7:36 a.m. MST

Michael Moore is a force to be reckoned with, having created what may prove to be the most popular documentary ever made — "Roger & Me."

"Me" is Moore himself, an unemployed journalist from Flint, Mich., who decided one day to make a movie about the effect that General Motors layoffs in his hometown had on the community.

"Roger" is Roger Smith, GM chairman of the board, and the film's basic narrative thread follows Moore's attempts to contact Smith so he can convince him to tour Flint and see the devastation left by the closures.

What follows is an often hilarious look at people's offbeat reactions to everyday situations, with Moore himself central to the action. But there is also an underlying element of pathos as Moore shows the devastation that has knocked his city to its knees.

Moore is shown trying to get appointments with Smith, trying to track him down at a local country club and talking to others about him and the subject of the General Motors shutdowns.

Apparently, GM closed three plants during the '80s, resulting in more than 30,000 layoffs. That led to a very high per capita level of unemployment, which led to poverty and evictions and a frightening increase in the number of rats infesting the city.

It also led to the city fathers coming up with all kinds of strange "solutions" to the problem, most prominently trying to make Flint a showcase for tourism.

Needless to say, Moore's narrative vacillates between hilarity and sadness, and when we see, at the end of the film, a family evicted at Christmas, with their tree being thrown in the gutter in front of their home, we feel outrage as well, especially since he juxtaposes the eviction with scenes of Smith giving his annual Christmas message to employees.

To be sure, this is manipulation at its zenith, and there has been much controversy lately about Moore having juggled the chronology of events in telling his story to make it more compelling.

But that, as they say, is moviemaking.

Besides, none of this bothered me as much as Moore's occasional condescending attitude, as when he interviews a pair of wealthy women golfing at an exclusive club or a Miss America candidate who is just passing through. Moore attacks these women with questions about this serious issue, then shows them up as dolts because they can't give us deep answers on the subject. What does he expect? This sort of ambush journalism seems like little more than a cheap shot.

On the other hand, Moore's angry attitude about the destruction of his hometown is certainly justified. Further, he knows that most of us want to believe that the rich and powerful are villains and all us little guys are going to be able to get back at them some day — even if it's just by making a movie that tweaks one of them on the nose.

And, most importantly, his movie is very funny and often quite touching.

As such, it's also highly recommended.

"Roger & Me" is rated R for profanity and animal violence (a woman clubs a rabbit to death and skins it on camera).