Man of the Year Review
by Dave Minkus
October 15, 2006
Comedy news show host Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) decides to run for president after enormous prodding from his fans (roughly four million e-mails after one episode alone). Supported by his manager Jak (Christopher Walken) and his primary writer (Lewis Black), he hits the campaign trail and ends up winning the presidency. However, when a woman (Laura Linney) comes out of nowhere and gives Jack crucial information about the election, will he do the honorable and honest thing, or follow the lead of the corrupt politicians he helped oust?
Man of the Year is going to disappoint a lot of people. This is through no fault of the film itself, but rather the marketing from Universal. It seems that they were so desperate to have a Robin Williams comedy that they decided to market it as one, even if that isn't what the movie really is. If you can put aside pre-conceived notions from the trailers, you'll enjoy this film that follows in the footsteps of Wag the Dog.
This film is undoubtedly funny, but only to certain audiences. If you are a devout Republican, or even a Democrat, you may very well be offended by this film. Man of the Year takes the growing feeling of frustration at the political system around the nation and puts it up on the screen in front of you.
While Williams' Tom Dobbs is very funny, he also takes running for the highest office very seriously. He interlaces humor that is distinctly his (as opposed to the often mentioned Bill Maher and John Stewart) with what he truly believes. His full disclosure to the press in the last two weeks of the race are exactly what most people wish a candidate would do. Christopher Walken is in top form as usual and his character of Jack is exactly what we expect of a manager. He isn't looking out for what' s best for the country, he's looking out for what's best for Tom Dobbs. Laura Linney was wonderful as whistleblower Eleanor Green turned girlfriend. She shows not just concern for what's right, but also for the person her news will affect the most. The most interesting performance may be Jeff Goldblum's because he probably doesn't have more than 10 minutes of screen time, but remains a looming, sinister force throughout the film. The one disappointment in the film was Lewis Black. Half the reason people love watching Lewis Black is because he always looks like he's about thirty seconds away from having an aneurism because of how worked up he gets. You really don't see any of this at all, and it's a shame. I would understand him taking a role that expands his persona in another direction, but anybody could have played that part.
The driving force of this movie is Barry Levinson's direction and writing, which were both effective in this film. While not as good as Good Morning Vietnam or Wag the Dog, Man of the Year definitely belongs in the same category as those two. Levinson has a very unique voice, especially when it comes to political films. In order to keep this from being a Bush-bashing piece, the incumbent was Democratic. That single touch allowed for the rest of the film to feel like an unbiased satire on the political system. Whether the change in political climate from 1997, when Wag the Dog was released, to now will affect this film's success remains to be seen.
In the end, the marketing of this film may be its undoing, and that's a real shame. Man of the Year isn't just a funny movie about politics, it's also a morality play questioning whether a good man remains that way after getting into power; it has a lot of heart. After a few disappointing films, Barry Levinson is back with a biting commentary on politics not only in government, but in corporate America as well.