Film / Roger & Me

Roger & Me is a 1989 documentary by Michael Moore, his first film.

Moore explores the deterioration of his hometown of Flint, Michigan, following the shutdown of the General Motors factories to which it was home, and his own attempts to track down Roger Bonham Smith, General Motors CEO, and get him to come to Flint. Though its accuracy is disputed (and let's say no more about that), the film became legend for its acerbic, poetic attacks on downsizing.

The film became the most successful non-concert documentary of all time upon its release (Moore's later films Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, among others, have since out-grossed it), has earned the coveted 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and won an Emmy.

This film contains the following tropes:

  • Biopic: The first ten minutes of the documentary is about Moore's own life, from his childhood in greater Flint, to his work as a journalist at home and later in San Francisco, and his firing from Mother Jones magazine. The purpose of this is to show how important GM was to the rise of Flint, and underscore how much the city lost with the layoffs.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Roger Smith, whose downsizing helped send Flint into decline. Beyond Flint, his policies led to GM's continued decline in market share (as well as quality of the cars), and he was named history's fifth worst auto chief by Fortune in 2013. He even threatened to pull advertising funds from any TV station that offered interviews to Michael Moore.
    Moore: [Narrating] [Roger Smith] appeared to have a brilliant plan: First, close eleven factories in the U.S., then open eleven in Mexico where you pay the workers seventy cents an hour. Then, use the money you've saved by building cars in Mexico to take over other companies, preferably high-tech firms and weapons manufacturers. Next, tell the union you're broke and they happily agree to give back a couple billion dollars in wage cuts. You then take that money from the workers, and eliminate their jobs by building more foreign factories. Roger Smith was a true genius.
  • Description Cut: A pretty depressing one. On Christmas Eve, 1988, at GM's Christmas party, Roger Smith gives a speech on how the holiday brings out people's inner generosity and warmth. It's intercut with footage of Deputy Sheriff Fred Ross evicting families from their homes.
  • Downer Ending: Moore fails to bring Smith to Flint, which is entrenched in decline. Retroactively it is also this, with Flint's continued decline and further layoffs into the twenty-first century, to which Moore's later documentaries returned, culminating in General Motors' bankruptcy in 2009, which is mentioned in Capitalism: A Love Story.
  • Dying Town: Flint, as shown by numerous sequences depicting the bleak lives of residents and crumbling infrastructure.
  • End of an Era: The film highlights the end of the age of company towns and the businesses that were ingrained in them, in favor of the greed-driven, globalized world.
    Moore: As we neared the end of the twentieth century, the rich were richer, the poor, poorer. And people everywhere now had a lot less lint, thanks to the lint rollers made in my hometown. It was truly the dawn of a new era.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job:
    • Most famously, Rhonda Britton who earns just enough money for groceries by selling rabbits for meat.
    • Some people are able to literally profit from Flint's decline, like U-Haul helping moving out.
    • Janet, who decides to become an Awway saleswoman and tries to help unemployed woman do the same. Moore decides to help Janet out of a crisis by letter her do his colors.
    • Some autoworkers get jobs at Taco Bell, hoping to use their assembly line skills in the making of Tacos.
    • Some autoworkers are retrained by the UAW as prison guards. Notably, many of the prisoners are their former co-workers.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The infamous "Pets or Meat" scene, in which an unemployed woman slaughters a rabbit and skins it for meat. Even Moore has attributed the R rating the MPAA gave the movie to this scene.
  • Irony: Depending on whom you ask, Tom Kay, the General Motors spokesman Moore interviews, says job security cannot be achieved in a free-enterprise system. Then, once the movie starts to end properly, we see an interesting subtitle after he reasserts his defense of GM's actions:
    Tom Kay laid off, office closed.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Moore pays multiple visits to GM's headquarters. Multiple times, he acts surprised when the elevator won't take him straight to Smith's office.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Deputy Sheriff Fred Ross, who has the unenviable job of evicting people who can't pay rent from their homes. His job is to enforce the law, however distasteful it may be.
  • Repurposed Pop Song: The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice," used in bitter irony to show how Flint, Michigan is suffering.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: In-universe, an autoworker and later journalist named Ben Hamper (a personal friend of Moore's) remarked that he had been listening to "Wouldn't It Be Nice" by the Beach Boys during a nervous breakdown. Afterward, the song is later played over footage of Flint's continued decline, as well as a news report about the rat population of Flint exceeding the human population with all the abandoned buildings, and later, the end credits.
  • Upper-Class Twit: The wealthy of Flint are portrayed as out of touch with the suffering, but they 'help' some unemployed autoworkers ... by giving them jobs as human statues for their parties. This was a bone of contention for Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times.
  • Wretched Hive: Smith's actions turn Flint into one, though the residents retain enough pride to burn copies of Money magazine in public when it declares them the worst town in America.
  • Zany Scheme: In the wake of the city's ailing economy, the Flint Convention and Visitor's Bureau decide the best course of action is to turn it into a tourist trap. Among their ridiculous ventures is a $100 million indoor car-themed amusement park called AutoWorld. It works about as well as you'd expect ("like going to New Jersey to visit Chemical World, or Valdez, Alaska, to visit Exxon World"), and closes six months after opening.