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.
Reader Feedback - 4 Comments
Dave -- please contact me by email, Ray
Raymond D. Minkus on Oct 16, 2006
I just now returned home from seeing the movie and I have to agree that Universal did us a disservice by marketing this as a comedy. I went to the movies tonight so I could laugh and forget life's pressures. Instead, I was drawn into another drama / suspense piece. I did appreciate how the character, Mr. Dobbs maintained his integrity and his personal confidence in his judgment of character and how he continued to believe Miss Green. I liked how it showed the plausible flaw in electronic voting machines and how easily it would be to have either corruption or error with them. Now for the real gut feelings: Viewing this as a conservative, I couldn't help but wonder if the real life liberal media hoped to capitalize on the film's message of "vote for change" to sway real-life voters who may suffer from incumbent fatigue right before the congressional elections in a few weeks. Hmm...makes a guy wonder. The last line in the move is a joke about diapers and politicians needing to be changed for the same reason. I can't help but wonder if Mr. Levinson did not want that to be the last thing in the minds of people leaving the theater. I'm not accusing, mind you, just curious. It was definitely not what I had hoped for when I spent the money to buy a ticket. I wish I had gone to Blockbuster instead.
Greg Harvey on Oct 27, 2006
Thanks for the feedback, Greg. I really wanted the review to be a warning to people not to expect one kind of movie and get sucked into another kind like you did. This will probably be the one and only time I talk about my personal political views, but I will as it's fairly difficult not to talk about with a film like this. I understand the percieved liberal bias in this film. It's pretty hard to ignore with people like Lewis Black and Robin Williams in it, let alone the constant mention of Bill Maher and Jon Stewart, all of whom are known for their liberal leanings. At the same time, however, as a VERY dissillusioned conservative, I really thought the film brought to light what I see as two parties pretty much acting the same way. Both sides will do and say whatever it takes to get into office. Do I think what happened in Man of the Year would ever realistically happen legitimately? Simply put, there's no way. Every time someone is sick of the status quo, whoever is brought in to change things up inevitably ends up being more of the same. I am talking about both sides here. Sure, having a Democrat as the incumbant was probably little more than a token gesture, but I think the point still stands. That's probably why I liked it so much. I really think a lot of people will think the same thing you did, and that's why this film failed. I think all the blame can go to the marketing. Had this been pushed right, the response would have been considerably different than what happened.
Dave on Oct 27, 2006
My son (13) and I just went to see this today and we loved the movie. Robin Williams is incredible in a role that highlights his incredible comedic talent but the serious one we don't get to see as often. I'm a life-long democrat so fed up with the two major parties I'm likely to vote for an independent this time around just to shake up the system - for it certainly needs shaking up. If that would be the only legacy of this film, it would be worth seeing. But the acting talents of the cast as well a sad story filled with humor, drama, and a little romance made for an enjoyable movie that I was glad to have seen. It's to bad they didn't have the guts to make the incumbent a Republican. I agree it was marketed as a comedy and that's a disservice to Robin Williams as well as to the public. This movie says a lot about corporate America as well as the political system in America, and what it says nees to be repeated again and again until we, the people, not only listen but do something about it by voting out all the current incumbents and voting Independent. It might take just such a change in order to really clean up the corrupt, perverse white male government losers we've been subjected to for far too long.
Michelle T. on Nov 4, 2006
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