Roger & Me is not a car movie per se, but it’s automotive-related enough to warrant mention here, IMO. It talks about the social-economic nosedive of the once-prosperous historic town of Flint, Michigan (the director’s hometown and point of interest and ironically enough, General Motor’s birth city) and the quest of the documentary’s director to talk to the man who has been labeled responsible for the loss of jobs due to outsourcing and restructuring: the General Motors CEO Roger B. Smith. Along Moore’s odyssey to even get close to Roger, we see everything from glory-days flashbacks to inevitable then-current state of things ranging from foreclosures and evictions to disturbing forms of making ends meet and survival, as well as interviews with Flint-raised celebrities, the rich, the laid-off and the hopelessly optimistic (a fancy Hyatt hotel in Flint to make it a more appealing destination. Really?).
As in the past, what happened to the town of Flint could and will happen to anyplace that heavily depends on one form of industry. But few industries, or in this case company, can match the size of GM. Just a couple of plant closures were enough to send tens of thousands out on the street. Being such an automotive-heavy industry, it was inevitable that Flint would catch the backlash of 1973 OPEC oil embargo as well as the recession that followed. If they recovered from that, other challenges like the new wave of imports didn’t do any favors to domestic automakers, either. Many auto workers weren’t keen on automatization as well. Other cities were experiencing this at the time. These facts were briefly mentioned/insinuated in the documentary, if at all. It’s also stated that Flint tried to save face and reinvent itself.
The documentary has its detractors, mostly because of what was edited out and how it was arranged out of chronological order. Then there’s Michael Moore himself, a man who’s no stranger to harsh critique (there was even a conservative comedy based on him). His documentaries, as well as those from other filmmakers, while entertaining, have details ready to be expanded on that were unable to make the final cut of the narrative; this happens within many movie genres. Just ask J.R.R. Tolkien book fans. Regardless, this is a rated R motion picture that covered adult situations with no real solutions in sight. Granted, there’s plenty of black humor to get a chuckle out of oneself. I got a kick out of how former assembly line workers couldn’t handle the stress of working at Taco Bell. But there are things that caught me off guard that I feel I must warn potential viewers about:
- TV personality Bob Eubanks’ politically incorrect/rude jokes
- A frustrated mother’s foul language in the presence of her children while being evicted
- The unexpected killing of a rabbit using unorthodox methods
Then there’s the so-called villain of the documentary: Roger B. Smith. If one looks for an opinion about the man in die-hard automotive enthusiast circles, chances are that one will find negative opinions about the man with plenty of colorful adjectives. Browsing his Wikipedia page, I came to sum up his business decisions in one sentence: He had big ideas that meant well, but the execution was lousy. The closing of GM plants is just one of his highly criticized actions. For car people, labeling Smith as a villain was as natural as the sun setting.
To this day, Flint, Michigan is still struggling. A lot of people have convinced themselves that the 1980s in the U.S. was a time were money was plentiful. The decade did have its moments, but where there were winners there were also losers, who are always forgotten: aside from the still recession-strapped early ‘80s and Black Monday, you may add Flint, Michigan to the list.
Movie DVD cover: Amazon.com