Man of the Year
|Robin Williams||Tom Dobbs|
|Christopher Walken||Jack Menken|
|Lewis Black||Eddie Langston|
|Directed by||Barry Levinson|
Robin Williams is a very funny man who sometimes decides he doesn?t want to be funny. In Man of the Year, he plays Tom Dobbs, a popular television political comic-turned-presidential candidate who sometimes decides he doesn?t want to be funny. Man of the Year is a political comedy that sometimes decides it doesn?t want to be funny.
All of the above are much better served when they lighten up and decide to be funny. The good news about this movie is that it goes for the jocular often enough to be satisfying. The bad news is that it is a thoroughgoing mishmash of styles, genres, ridiculous plotting, and sidetracks. The good news is that the talent and chemistry of Williams and costar Laura Linney, reinforced by a solid supporting cast that includes Chris Walken and Lewis Black, provides enough astringency to neutralize the schmaltz and override much of the nonsense that is the bad news about the picture.
The creative force behind this bipolar exercise is Barry Levinson, a writer and director who has done memorable things in the past with Williams (Good Morning Vietnam) and with politics (Wag the Dog), but not lately. It?s been twenty years since the former, almost ten since the latter, and Levinson?s recent r?sum? is littered with such flat tires as An Everlasting Piece (2000) and Envy (2004). Man of the Year seemed to offer a chance to put it all together again, hard-hitting Robin Williams satiric comedy married to political insight timed for a turbulent election season. The movie doesn?t begin to deliver on all that, but it musters enough good-natured energy to show us a good time. Or not. Audiences will be pretty divided on this one.
The picture opens with Jack Menken (Walken) talking to an interviewer from a wheelchair, always a promising start for a comedy. Menken is Dobbs?s manager, and he is telling how his comedian client came to be elected President of the United States. It starts as a lark ? a woman in Dobbs?s studio audience urging him to run as a candidate who will cut through partisan negativity and indistinguishable parties. He decides to do it, and gets on the ballot in just enough states to have a mathematical chance of winning. He loses his sense of humor, hovers around 17 percent in the polls despite no media advertising, and is invited to join the last televised Presidential debate, where he regains his sense of humor and knocks ?em dead. He becomes the talk of the campaign, and lo and behold he winds up the winner on Election Night.
Meanwhile Eleanor Green (Linney), a systems analyst at Delacroy, the computer company that has just cornered the market on electronic voting, discovers a glitch in their vote-counting program. Delacroy has no partisan axe to grind, but it doesn?t want the glitch to become public and scuttle its soaring stock prices. Eleanor is drugged, fired, and discredited by the company for her trouble. So she impersonates an FBI officer, crashes Dobbs?s election celebration, and they fall in love, and she tells him he isn?t really President.
That should be enough to give an idea of the quality of plot we?re dealing with. Once we discover Dobbs isn?t the legitimately elected President, we know it?s only a matter of time before he gives the job up, but we don?t know how it?ll happen. Menken?s wheelchair provides ominous foreshadowing of physical tragedy, but that gets sorted out midway through, and turns out to be there for reasons more maudlin than menacing. But a man of principle like Tom Dobbs can?t continue to occupy the oval office under false pretenses, any more than Kevin Kline could in Dave, no matter how good it might be for the country.
Laura Linney is a fine actress, and she gets a chance to let it all hang out in a bravura scene where she goes crazy the company cafeteria under the influence of scurrilously-administered drugs. The scene is too long, and too serious, and interrupts what ought to be the comic flow of the movie, but you can?t help but admire Linney?s conviction and resourcefulness; and if they remake The Snake Pit she?s got my vote for the part. Linney is better used in establishing a chemically convincing rapport with Williams, and in giving Eleanor more dimensions than were probably in the script. And Lewis Black, the gruff, ranting comic of outrage from Jon Stewart?s The Daily Show, provides much-needed acerbic course corrections at times when the movie threatens to suffocate in cotton candy.
So what?s to like about Man of the Year? It?s funny. Or enough of it is to push it into the win column. When Williams listens to the comedian on his left shoulder and brushes off the sob sister on his right, when Levinson remembers that this is a comedy and not a political thriller or a soap opera, when Walken gets screen time and reminds us that he?s a funny, charismatic actor and not just a weirdo, when the gags crackle and the good pieces fall into place, the glass is more than half full.
© Text 2006 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be