Review written by Nathan Vass
The trailers for Barry Levinson's new film, Man of the Year, indicate that it is a comedy. This is only partially true. The film tries to meld together several genres- comedy, psychological thriller, and political conspiracy picture. One would be correct in assuming that a humorous psychological conspiracy drama would not work very well. Man of the Year does not reverse that trend.
The film begins with comedian talk-show host Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) off-handedly remarking that he should run for president. When those around him respond with overwhelming encouragement, he does so. At first, his political speeches are serious, and no one listens; when he suddenly (and inexplicably) decides to change his approach and add comedy to his routine, he predictably wins over many voters. Meanwhile, Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), a grunt in a company developing a new voting software system, discovers a technical problem in the software- it doesn't add up the votes correctly. Using this voting software is the only option for voters in the upcoming election. Of course, Dobbs then goes on to win the election, later learning from Eleanor that he did so because of an unintentional computer glitch. Dobb's storyline is filled with laughs and an unnecessary Christopher Walken health-trauma subplot, while Green's storyline is a subpar corporate whistleblower narrative devoid of humor. The film strays so far from comedy in these passages as to render the film irreparably clunky and uneven. A scene with Linney alone at her house at night verges on horror, and another scene involving a public drug-related breakdown is played so realistically by Linney that it's heartbreaking, not funny, to watch.
The purpose of these non-comedy scenes is to make the highly ludicrous plot concept (TV host as U.S. President) approach the realm of believability. The idea of Robin Williams, who exudes both intelligence and great humor, as President, is one ripe with comedic possibilities, and perfect movie material. Because of this, I naturally approached the film with high hopes, especially with Barry Levinson, a reasonably capable director, at the helm. Man of the Year does contain a good number of laughs, almost all from Williams, who shines when he is given the opportunity to go off the script and do his own thing. One can sense that the PG-13 rating prevented him from truly reaching the hilarious heights he has scaled in the past (as anyone who has seen Williams' live shows will quickly attest). Nevertheless, Williams is always a joy to watch, and to see fun poked at the serious political issues of today is refreshing.
Sadly, Williams' presence is not enough to justify seeing the movie. There are simply too many deviations from his storyline, and from comedy in general, and they take up far too much of the runtime. I have absolutely no problem with films that mix genres (Pulp Fiction being a terrific example), but Levinson does so with such uncharacteristic clumsiness that the audience is constantly being taken out of the film. His editing, particularly during a montage of campaign speeches early in the film, is remarkably poor. Some may argue that "this is only a comedy," but I feel that comedy is just as respectable a genre as drama, and deserving of no less effort. Levinson (who also wrote) adds some glaring propagandist touches which are admirable in intent but crippling to the film's flow. It doesn't help that the Laura Linney storyline is plodding and painfully predictable.
While watching these scenes, I wished that the film had simply assumed that we would suspend belief and simply accept the ludicrous premise (a la The Big Lebowski) instead of spending half the film trying to make it realistic. This element brings down the picture immeasurably. Ultimately, watching Man of the Year is a sad experience. One walks out of the theatre thinking not of what one has just seen, but what the film could have been. Here is a film with great potential, but abandons that potential in favor of the most mediocre effort imaginable.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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