Roger & Me is Michael Moore's first documentary film, released in 1989.
In the film, Moore shows the deterioration of his hometown of Flint, Michigan, following the mass shutdowns of the General Motors factories to which it was home, and documents his own attempts to track down Roger Bonham Smith, General Motors CEO, and bring him to Flint to see the closures' impacts firsthand.
While its accuracy is disputed, the film became legend for its acerbic, poetic attacks on downsizing. It became the highest-grossing 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), earned the coveted 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and won over 14 awards including an Emmy.
This film contains the following tropes:
- Anti-Climax: In a way. Michael's interview with Roger, which he was building to the whole movie, is incredibly brief, as Michael only gets to ask him a few questions before Roger walks away. However, this also reinforces one of the points of the movie: that the rich are inaccessible and unsympathetic to the working class.
- 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.
- Cluster F-Bomb: The family evicted from their house at the end. Justified, as they were being kicked out near Christmas and the mother was adamant that she was all paid up.
- 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.
- Used again with Moore talking about how The Newlywed Game was "wholesome family entertainment". Cut to host Bob Eubanks (whom Moore also notes is a returning son of Flint "made good", meant to give a Rousing Speech about how things will get better again) making an extremely inappropriate joke about Jewish women.
- 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.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: While largely similar in format to subsequent Michael Moore docs, Michael isn't on camera as much this time.
- End of an Age: 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 earns just enough money for groceries by selling rabbits for meat.
- Some people can literally profit from Flint's decline, like U-Haul helping moving out.
- Janet, who joins Amway and tries to help unemployed women do the same. Moore decides to help Janet out of a crisis by letting her do his colors.
- Some autoworkers get jobs at Taco Bell, hoping to use their assembly line skills in the making of Tacos.
- The UAW retrains some laid-off autoworkers 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.
- Jerkass: Bob Eubanks isn't shown in a very positive light.
- Job-Stealing Robot: A scene at AutoWorld features a man and the sort of robot that's replacing him on the assembly line, with the line "Me and my buddy!" sung very creepily over it.
- Leave the Camera Running: The scene where Rhonda Britton clubs, skins and guts a rabbit. You would think it would cut away at some point, but no, it just keeps going. And going.
- Mood Dissonance: In-Universe, one GM worker about to lose his job is confused seeing his co-workers cheer as the last car they assembled rolls off the line.Worker: What's everybody so happy about? We just lost our jobs!
- No Sympathy: How many well-to-do people respond to the suffering of the people of Flint. We get the usual list of excuses: "they're too lazy to find other work", "it sucks, but the purpose of a business is to make money", "just hang in there and everything will work out eventually", "just move to a different state", "the welfare system will work out", etc.
- Not Helping Your Case: In one scene, Roger discusses former GM workers who got jobs as prison guards. He interviews one of them who claims he's much happier in this job than at GM... all while a very loud prisoner is incessantly shouting down the hall.
- 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.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Every person who refuses to let Michael see Roger. Near the end of the film, Michael reveals to one of the guards that he's been trying to see Roger for a year with no success.
- Politician Guest-Star: Footage of Ronald Reagan buying pizza for some laid-off workers appears. He tells them to move south if they want jobs. Later, the pizzeria's cash register went missing.
- 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 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, a news report about Flint's rat population exceeding its human population with all the abandoned buildings, and the end credits.
- Upper-Class Twit:
- The wealthy of Flint are portrayed as out of touch with those less well-to-do, 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.
- Robert Schuller and Anita Bryant come across this way to an extent, as both appear to peddle easy answers to a situation they can't relate to as rich people.
- 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.