a critiQal film review Man of the Year (2006)

  • DVD

Plot: A fan's comment during a political comedian Tom Dobb's (Williams) talk show one night causes Tom to join the next presidential race. He brings his show on the road, skewering the other candidates. That is, until he's elected President that November. But, when he finds out a computer error is behind his bizarre new situation, he has to decide whether he should stay President and work to change the corrupt system from the inside, or do what no politician ever would - be honest.

1037 words (Est. Reading Time 5m 11s)
  • ...despite it's initial promise, this one turns out to be somewhat disappointing

Since I’m a big fan of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” (TV), a film that aims to put a person like Stewart into the President’s seat seemed like something I would be interested in. With Robin Williams in the title role, it definitely had a chance to be funny. Plus, with all the bizarre happenings in real-life presidential races (“Woo-ha” ring any bells?), we knew that the situation could be one of the funniest Robin Williams has ever been in – and he wouldn’t even have to wear women’s clothing! With all of this going for it, Man Of The Year went on our must-see list as soon as we heard about it.

But, would our expectations be able to withstand a viewing? Or would we still be hoping for a punchline at movie’s end?

While best known for his over-the-top comedy roles (voice of the Genie in Aladdin (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire, etc.), Robin Williams has also made a name for himself as an actor who is worth watching in that strange mix of the comedy/drama (dramedy?). With films like Good Morning, Vietnam, Jack and Patch Adams, he’s been able to interlace his humor with a serious message – without either degrading the strength of that message or the hilarity of his comedy.

With Man Of The Year, he hides his comedic side to let the political satire of the film show through – and he is able to do that with flying colors. While he still lets the jokes fly every so often, it’s not as smooth a transition as he has been able to do in the past. Instead, it seems the film is divided. For most of the film, he’s doing his best to run a campaign focusing on the real issues at hand, and he is only allowed certain allotted spaces to get all his jokes in.

Unfortunately, this results in parts of Man of the Year giving off the vibe of a stand-up comic on a time frame: the jokes are non-stop, and don’t give the audience a chance to breathe in between. These sudden jumps are rather disconnected from the rest of the film, and seem to have been put in by the director as pauses of comedy between the stabbing satirical comment – maybe to keep those viewers with shorter attention spans from drifting off course.

Even worse, the film probably would have been better without these irreverent spots of comedic pummeling. Rather than shining in the comedic spotlight, Robin Williams is at his best in Man Of The Year behind closed doors. Out of the public spotlight, he is much more relaxed, and his caring for his friends really comes to the forefront.

Some of the best scenes of Man of the Year revolve around Robin and Eleanor Green, played by Laura Linney. He is attracted to her from the start, despite rather suspicious circumstances, and despite her seemingly not catching on to it. While the puppy dog-like attraction he feels towards her seems a little far-fetched on the page, Williams is able to pull it off without the viewer even noticing how ridiculous it all is. Only after the film is over will the viewer even consider how contrived the whole romantic aspect actually is, and realize the filmmakers must have tossed that whole aspect in last minute.

Aside from those comedic moments mentioned earlier, Man of the Year is mostly about poking fun at the whole presidential election process. Whether it’s the computer system that replaces the flawed ballots (which Florida will never live down) or the fact that the computer system is as flawed as the ballots it replaced -maybe even more so – seems to be a scathing remark on America as a whole. If we are unable to create a system that works for electing our next President (potentially one of the most important decisions any of us will ever help make), why would anything else we make work any better?

Still, Man of the Year stayed away from the really scatological comments it could have made – like the fact that if a popular comedian did run, there could be a real possibility he would win legitimately. After all, how many people simply pick the name they know best, without really being informed on any of the issues? Or how many would pick the name as a joke, and be stunned when he actually won?

This coming election is a prime example of that – how many people do you know that will vote (or not) for Hilary Clinton simply because she is a woman? Or Barack Obama because he is the first real contender for the presidential race who is at least part black? Or those who vote Democrat (or Republican) regardless of the candidate? While sex, party affiliation, race or color (or name recognition) shouldn’t be a deciding factor in determining the President Of The United States, that is what this coming election is shaping up to be. Yet, Man Of The Year stayed away from that topic all together.

Instead, it relied on the whole “all politicians are untrustworthy” aspect that has been used time and time again. While Man Of The Year wasn’t as harsh as others have been, it did make some interesting points, and showed that someone outside of the system would have a real chance of gaining a number of votes just for being seen as an outsider who could go in and shake things up a bit over there in D.C.

Basically Man Of The Year boiled down to two separate parts: one, a commentary on the state of America; the other, a simple boy-meets-girl story. While the boy-meets-girl story came out better than expected thanks to brilliant acting from Robin Williams, and the commentary brought out points to ponder for viewers, together they only serve to diminish each other. The love story dulls the razor edge of the social commentary, while the love story is hampered by actually being a subplot of the film, so doesn’t get a chance to blossom as much as it could have.

Overall, a bit of a disappointment and rather predictable – but not as bad as it could have been.

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