The worst thing about almost all of polemicist-documentarian Michael Moore's movies is when Michael Moore appears in them. Which bodes poorly for Michael Moore in TrumpLand, a film that includes virtually nothing else but Michael Moore. In TrumpLand.

Specifically, it follows Moore to Wilmington, Ohio, the county seat of Clinton County. Here, over two nights in the first week of October 2016, Moore presented a rousing speech to a polyglot crowd of Democratic voters, Republican voters, and third party voters, in which he exhorted them to vote for Hillary Clinton, even if they had to hold their nose while doing so. These nights were both filmed, and edited together, and on 18 October - less than two weeks after the event itself! - the end product very suddenly and shockingly premiered in New York, preceding a swift cross-country tour and eventual appearance on all the usual digital platforms.

The thing that emerges from this is probably not entirely fair to describe as a "movie", though I'm not sure what word would be better. It's a political commercial for Clinton, one that barely spends any time dealing with Donald Trump at all, but instead tries to make a two-part argument in favor of voting for the Democratic nominee: first, the wavering Trumpeteers who recognise on some level that their candidate is a radioactive circus clown, but not quite ready to jump into the murky waters of Liberalism; second, left-wingers who see no positive upshot to a Clinton presidency and can't bring themselves to vote for a candidate so vigorously committed to the machinery of American capitalism and imperialism, but see even less upshot to a Trump presidency (full disclosure: I am the second kind of person through and through; certainly, I was not persuaded by Moore's argument). It is not meant to have the artistic longevity even of Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore's last attempt to move the needle on a U.S. presidential election through the power of cinema; at least that follows the basic shape of a movie that tells a coherent story using a variety of images. It is a documentary with a very distinct sell-by date; but it is a documentary.

Can the same be said about Michael Moore in TrumpLand? I really have no idea. Take out the "set up the theater" montage that opens the movie, and what you have left is barely-edited concert footage that could have been tossed on YouTube without losing much of its dignity and probably only increasing its overall impact. It is a desperately artless thing, almost unspeakably bad if we judge it on its merits as a piece of cinema: the stage lighting translates to film in an ugly way, while conspiring with too much pancake makeup to make Moore look simultaneously sweaty and wax; the sound mix is an utter abomination, with ADR'd lines cropping up every now and then that sound so painfully far away from the texture of the rest of the soundtrack and the footage that surely just leaving in whatever shitty audio they captured live would have been less distracting.

Of course, it's not a piece of cinema, not in any meaningful way. By the time I'm writing these words on the evening of 8 November, 2016, the film has already outlived its usefulness; we need discuss it no more than we need discuss the wadded-up wrapping paper sitting to the side of the garbage can on Christmas morning. All it does is to provide a vessel for Moore to spend 73 minutes presenting the most conciliatory arguments he can: to right wingers, to left wingers, and probably to himself, just months after voting for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. The effort is palpable, especially in the early going, when he's directly addressing the Trump voters in the audience: his attempts to poke gentle fun at himself and the cosmopolitan wing of the Democratic party come across desperate and shrill and absolutely riddled with nerves, as he speaks in a giggling squeak while promising that Dems are just the goofiest, most out-of-touch bozos, but we do try, ha ha. It is a little sad, and enormously pandering, and not nearly as funny as Moore clearly wants it to be - the whole thing tries to be a stand-up comedy routine, and while he does find his way there once he gives up trying to play ball with the Republicans, it is a joyless, miserable opening 20 minutes or so while he struggles through and drags us with him.

What remains is a relative rarity in the 2016 electoral cycle: a positive argument in favor of voting for Clinton, one that does not more than a couple of times jokingly refer back to the "we must defeat Trump!" argument that has been pretty much the only consistent campaign slogan for what feels like a glacial epoch. Here, at least, he feels a bit like the Moore of old: quick on his feet, able to switch from pious sincerity to rollicking sarcasm in the blink of an eye. The firebrand populist Moore is rather less obviously in attendance; his attempts to meet the Trump voters on their own terms is forced and awkward for everybody, not helped at all by his many cutaway shots to the audience looking hot and uncomfortable. This gambit only works in one context: every time the director cuts to shots of women looking tearful as he praises Clinton's longstanding commitment to feminism, there's actually something real and good.

Anyway, Moore appears more relaxed and fun when he's talking about Clinton, and it's to the film's benefit; at no point does it ever turn into something genuinely appealing, not when the whole thrust of the thing is "I am Michael Moore, an important man, and you should hang on my every word and witticism", but it does become pleasantly wry here and there. As for the actual content of his argument, it's simply not there, and I cannot imagine TrumpLand actually budging anybody from their set opinion. In effect, for a solid 30 minutes or more, Moore's only argument to vote for Clinton boils down to "I would really, really hate to be right about her, so I'm going to assume that her entire career on the national stage has been an elaborate charade hiding her real progressive, populist, anti-war beliefs, in order to make it palatable for me to vote for her". He never uses that precise phrasing, but he's quite explicit about it: in the absence of facts, vote hope. For where the hell else are we to find hope? It's uniquely anti-inspirational, the electoral equivalent of "fake it till you make it", though to his credit, Moore does indicate that the left will have the job of forcing Clinton to make good on her campaign promises, rather than simply being excited that we're not going to be plunged into an apocalyptic hellhole. Given the titanic shitpile that the American public sphere has been for most of 2016, that will have to do for activist optimism, I guess, but a triumph of political rhetoric it sure as fuck ain't.