Man of the Year is an odd movie. It follows the campaign and eventual election to the office of President of the United States by a Jon Stewart wannabe, played by Robin Williams. The strange thing is, though, the campaign appears to be happening in Canada. Specifically Toronto. Apparently Presidential Debates are now held at the University of Toronto.
That was just one of the things I learned while watching Man of the Year. I also found out that you can spot the Canadians in big budget American films made here because they’re the ones without any lines. I also now know that films starring Robin Williams are likely to include reaction shots of people laughing, kind of like a laugh track to cue the audience to start giggling at his insane improvised rants.
Man of the Year re-teams Williams with director Barry Levinson. Levinson has figured out how to blend the Williams the improv comic with Williams the actor by only casting him in roles that contain some kind of performance element. In Good Morning, Vietnam he was able to riff on the radio in between the earnest emoting that earned him an Academy Award nomination. Here Levinson allows him to run wild on the campaign trail, essentially letting him do his stand-up routine at debates and stumping stops. We get a taste of Williams the actor, but much of Man of the Year is akin to an HBO Special with a message.
But it’s not just that, and that is the film’s fatal flaw. Man of the Year contains some pretty good, although pretty obvious, comments on the American political system, but it isn’t content to be a political satire like Bulworth, or even Levinson’s Wag the Dog. Instead Levinson has created a mixed bag of a film that is part comedy, part action, part industrial espionage and part thriller without ever settling on any one. The film’s trailer promises a few laughs, and they are there, sprinkled throughout an uneven story involving a large company that invents a computerized voting booth. When Laura Linney’s character discovers the computer program’s glitch she is fired and made to look like an unstable crazy person by her former employers who are more concerned about their stock options than the accuracy of the election.
I say pick a story. Either one will do. Is this an industrial espionage story or a political satire? I’ve seen the movie and I still don’t know.