guppy's film reviews

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Man Of The Year

Also reviewed this week: The Departed

Director: Barry Levinson
Notable Actors: Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Lewis Black, Jeff Goldblum
Score: A-
Summary: Rather fun but pointed political meta-comedy.

Okay, everyone is going to say pretty much the same thing when they talk about Man Of The Year. Yes, the obvious analogy is Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. See, Man Of The Year is about political satirist Tom Dobbs (Williams), whose audience urges him to run for President after being fed up with indistinguishable, useless career politicians. That's pretty much what people are doing in real life these days -- it's hard not to have at least heard about the (nonexistent) Stewart/Colbert ticket all the kids are pushing these days. But that's not really what the film's all about.

Okay, it is, sort of. Jon Stewart analogies aside, the film's a pretty blatant political commentary on those useless career politicians. But that doesn't mean it doesn't do a good job, or that it isn't worth your time.

Comedian Tom Dobbs hosts a political comedy show, but there's some sharp commentary going on at his show; the film likens him to Bill Maher and the rest of that crowd. One of his audience members tells him to run for President; he laughs it off as a joke at first, but after a little while, begins to think about it. His candidacy starts as a joke, but becomes increasingly serious as time goes on.

There's a kink in the system, though -- literally. See, this year they've chosen to roll out a new electronic voting system created by a company called Delacroy (an obvious, harsh jab at real-life e-voting giant Diebold). Only there's a problem: there's a glitch in the system that seriously distorts the election results, discovered at the last minute.

I like Robin Williams' movies, but I don't care for his standup, and I think this movie made me realize why. In his standup, Williams acts like a squirrel on speed, jumping frenetically from topic to topic, and that doesn't do much for me. In comedies like Man Of The Year, he does pretty much the same thing, but the film provides a certain amount of context, a framework for him to work within. It works very well here and Williams is, of course, the star of the show. Everyone likes Christopher Walken, of course; Lewis Black's inclusion is a nice nod to his role as real-life political satirist. As you'd expect, though, Williams is the show-stealer.

Man Of The Year is designed to be a commentary on a number of things: career politicians and political parties, electronic voting, and yes, Jon Stewart. It's not perfect, but it does a lot right. First off, yes, the film is very funny. I want to focus more on two other aspects, however.

First, while you'd expect a film like this to be heavily biased towards the left, I felt it did a fairly good job of balancing its snark; the jabs aren't so much at any one party as they are the entire two-party system. I don't know that I can call it "bipartisan," but that was a big bullet to dodge and I think they did a good job with it.

Second, I think I'm on to writer/director Barry Levinson. Above, I called Man Of The Year a meta-comedy, and I did that for a reason. The film is essentially about a comedian calling attention to some serious political issues. I have this sneaking suspicion that that's exactly what Levinson is trying to do with this film: call attention to some real-life serious political issues. A lot of people these days are talking about how they don't see much to distinguish the two major U.S. political parties; that theme features heavily in the film. Likewise, there's a lot to be concerned about with electronic voting systems, principally the lack of a paper trail; again, it's a major feature in the film.

Only Levinson can say for sure whether that was his goal or not. If it was, I think he did a pretty good job and I hope it works. If not, well, it's still a lot of fun as a comedy.


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