Roger & Me (1989) (R)

This review contains SPOILERS!
Before all the controversy and the anti-Bush rantings at the Oscars, Michael Moore was a fairly respected film maker. To be fair, he still is, though he is now viewed as a loose cannon of the film world. With his current résumé being what it is, it's easy to forget Moore's first work: "Roger & Me".
"Roger & Me" tells Moore's own story of growing up in Flint, of the General Motors capitals of the United States. The Flint of Moore's childhood was filled with celebrities and wonderful parades. General Motors would finance the community to promote business and everybody won. But then...something happened. Massive downsizing and reported outsourcing lead Flint to become a poverty capital. It's residents flee and those that stay are in denial.
Determined to make General Motors atone for their careless disposal of so many human lives, Michael Moore sets out on his mission to meet GM CEO Roger Smith.
Right from the start, Moore asserts himself as someone who shouldn't be trifled with. Although he is demure looking and sounding, Moore's vengeance spills out in the editing room.
He approaches Roger Smith several times, but is denied access to the man's office. Moore is even told that he cannot make an appointment with the man..."send a letter" they tell him. Keep in mind this is one year after Moore first tried to get in contact with Roger Smith.
I should clarify: Moore's bitterness is only fueled by the ignorant and unhelpful people that he meets. They invite the mocking upon themselves and who is Moore to spare it from them?
It's hard to engage with "Roger & Me" at first...after all, it's a movie about Moore's childhood city and the cruelties that it has been dealt by GM. It's very personal and hard to empathize with that unless you have come from a similar experience.
But as the movie plays out, the vision expands to include all major corporations that run on greed. It's the same mentality that we have as "the 99%". It's hard to look at "the fat cats" as one lady describes them and feel any sort of empathy.
Why? Because there is a deep feeling that they have screwed us out of opportunities and jobs. Moore taps into this feeling quite easily...and the people he speaks to don't help GM's public image at all.
One scene has, after months and months of pursuit, Moore (posing as a GM stockholder) getting to talk to Roger Smith. As soon as the CEO hears that Moore is representing Flint, Michigan; the man adjourns the meeting and laughs at Moore's surprised face. When you act like a jerk, don't get shocked when people hate you.
Moore's "Roger & Me" is a blistering and scathing documentary that changed how documentaries were made. It's funny at times and also painfully indifferent in others.
To show how Flint has declined, all Moore needed to do was set up his camera and record.
Crime rates go through the roof and Money magazine lists Flint as the worst place in America to live...ouch.
What is the cause of this?
It's obvious that Moore blames GM and when looking at the evidence that he lines up, it's hard to disagree with him.
I think the moment that stood out to me the most involved one of Moore's old classmates named James Bond, who had just gotten evicted. He is a young man, in the height of his health and youth. He tells the camera that he wants to live for himself, but he can't. His surroundings have robbed him of this opportunity.
As odd and quirky as "Roger & Me" is, it is also equally as unpleasant in thought and execution. It's hard to think that some people would be that heartless and greedy...but that's the world we live in.
Woah, that got a little too deep for me.
The point is that Moore's documentary takes the audience to so many different places in their own minds. It makes you examine your own life and habits and that is a very rare thing to find.
"Roger & Me" is one of the finest documentaries I've seen—it's educational without being patronizing, frustrating without being stressful, and wacky in its own sub-genre way.
This being the first of Moore's films that I've seen, I already know that I will be seeing many more.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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