The look cues the goofy music, but the face cues the inspirational music.
There's a part of our mind that is hardwired to believe that no matter how bad a film can be, the fact that one actor that we really like is there will at least make it worthwhile. This is a part of our mind that causes many DVDs to be purchased at a pharmacy or dollar store. It is also a part of our mind that allows us to become more informed of those we enjoy as entertainers, letting us know how talented they are as well as how their careers stand. Simply put, I watched Man Of The Year because of Robin Williams. Robin Williams is probably the most prominent comedian that resides in that "they can do no wrong" section of my conscience, next to George Carlin and Bill Murray. Robin Williams shares quite a lot of great factors with Jim Carrey. Both are filled to the brim with energy, can do well in serious roles and do some fantastic improv when given the chance. Their film careers on the other hand show a very different path. Carrey has made a considerable effort to avoid terrible roles (though that's not to say he hasn't gotten into some stinkers) and has mostly made a comfortable home in dramatic work. Unfortunately for Williams, he has had his hand in some harshly panned productions and switches from the two theater masks constantly (especially when you compare him to Carrey). So basically what I'm trying to say here is that I don't think Man Of The Year was a good film.
That's not to say that I didn't enjoy myself with the film, but it was a different kind of enjoyment that I get from a film that I don't consider good. Rather than being raucous and soaked in mockery of the very thing I was watching, it was mild and basic enough to at least consider it my money's worth. As satisfactory as that might be, this comes across as bizarre. For me to see a film that has Lewis Black, Robin Williams and Christopher Walken sharing the screen together along with being a political satire and the best thing going across my mind is "I guess I don't need to get my looney back" does not compute very well. It also doesn't help that I recalled more moments of laughter than I did awkward silence or aggressive criticism. It's almost as if my brain is well aware that there is more beyond these aspects but it doesn't want to dive further deeper into them. Instead, it just wants to accept it had a good time, in the same way that getting caught kissing your pillow isn't the most awkward thing to happen to the person that came in. But I'm not going to let my bias take hold, at least not in this case.
But what exactly is Man Of The Year about? At first thought, you imagine a film that revolves around TIME magazine's pick for the most important person on the planet. The one that makes the biggest change, engrained in the consciousness of many. By the title and the titular actor alone, I'd imagine Robin Williams playing a hobo who looks at the current Man of the Year's picture on a newsstand and decides that he will one day be on the magazine, later going on a series of wacky hijinks all the while learning about following your dreams and helping others. Y'know, the sort of saccharine schmultz that you can totally see him excelling in. The actual story isn't close, but it is noteworthy enough to be one hell of a cigar. Williams plays Tom Dobbs, a comedian who loves to rip on the American political system. Many people adore the guy, so much so that when he makes a joke about running for president, the audience cheers for him. Slowly but surely, support builds up and Tom figures that he might as well give it a shot. For his presidential campaign, he is backed up by his manager Jack Menken (Walken), and one of his greatest comedy writers Eddie Langston (Black), who notice that when he talks serious politics, he tends to not bring the same spark to him. The two of them suggest to Dobbs that in the presidential debate, he should be more of himself and bring the people what they want from him. At first, Dobbs takes reluctance to the idea, but eventually decides to make the event a complete farce by being brutally honest with his jokes. Due to his stunt, he becomes incredibly recognized in the public and on the night of the elections, he becomes the first comedian to be elected president.
To be fair, his had confetti and balloons.
As far as concepts go, that alone is scoring some major points. Not only is the idea of a comedian being elected a president able to showcase their abilities to outrageous degrees, but the material that you can suck out of it is plentiful that it could fill up it's own genre. Not only would have the reaction of the comedian realizing he's in high office, but also you'd have citizens who find themselves pissed off by being the laughingstock of the world and other countries looking at each other in utter confusion. It would be as ludicrous as a bus driver being the president because the last one's spirit came to him as a bird and told him he was the rightful successor. That alone would make it, and Man Of The Year does work with it. For one, Robin does what he does best, especially in the scene where he tears down the facades of the two other candidates. He plays paintball while the Secret Service is watching by, wears a George Washington wig and outfit when addressing Congress and even makes Saturday Night Live worth viewing. Of course there's also Lewis making his usual wisecracks and Christopher Walken has some of his patented moments thrown in for good measure. The thing is though that Man Of The Year isn't just about Dobbs and his crew painting the White House polka dots (which is one serious missed opportunity right there), it's also about elections being rigged.
Yes, in a Robin Williams comedy, there is a serious subplot involving an electronic voting system error. See, there's this woman who works for a company called Delacroy. Delacroy is in charge of the recent election and has already put the machines out. The woman finds out though that an error is causing the wrong person to be elected and immediately informs the company. Rather than fix it immediately as secretly as possible, the president decides to ignore it because if they try to correct it now, their stock will plummet and they want more money. Now, I will give it credit that the film having Dobbs not truly be elected into office is a good movie. Not only in the realistic aspect, but because it gives him a conflict. No, the issue would moreso be that they try to create a villain out of this. It's the kind of weird that doesn't benefit the movie, because it's not working as a punchline. It doesn't even work as a bizarrely serious aspect either because it doesn't carry much poignancy to it. Some elections end up with the wrong results, but usually it involves another party trying to weasel their way to the top or lack of voter interest, not a company that wants their electronic system to be used in all the elections to reap a huge profit. It could possibly work if there was more depth to those characters, but needless to say there isn't much else to it. And it doesn't get any better I'm afraid.
Pictured above: Man Of The Year not getting any better
For starters, I consider myself a very ticklish person. By that I mean that practically anything makes me laugh. A well executed, incredibly sophisticated series of witty remarks could very much evoke the same amount of tear-jerking chuckles that a person falling down the stairs whilst farting as their body hits the next step. That makes it very hard for me to convince others that I don't like Seltzerberg films that I'm forced to watch, because they can still hear the ringing of my cackling from before, but I have the ability to recognize when what I laughed at was good comedy and when it was bad. In Man Of The Year, I'd have to say that for every hit, there was at least two misses. That wouldn't be too bad if the jokes were being fired at you from every corner, but you have to remember that satire does not automatically mean comedy. If it did, then reading 1984 at the Apollo theater would not be met with excessive booing. It's a shame because when it hits, it hits well. Robin Williams goes on and on in the political debate, he really was on fire. A lot of the comments, while simple when it comes to ripping on the system, had a genuine sense of cleverness, effort and good intentions. Furthermore, the comedy of the film was at least giving off the feeling that it was trying to say something beyond the goofy tones. It was blunt, but it was the kind of blunt that was trying to break down a wall. Like I said, there was that sense that it was pushing as hard as it could, and I have to commend it for doing the best it could. Especially considering that it was a political satire taking place smack dab in the middle of 2006, which focused much less on making fun of Dubya and more on critical issues that had been plaguing the system before and during the Bush administration.
Unfortunately though, as great as political satire can be and as much as I love it, it doesn't mean that it will be good. If I was convinced Man Of The Year was good, I would have compared it to Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert from the get-go. But when the jokes had soul they had no punch to them, and when they had a punch to them they had no soul. That political debate I was talking about earlier was a good example of this, because the good jokes weren't saying anything bold beyond "this system is screwed up". I know that the basis of political comedy revolves around that principle, but there's also always another matter tied to it, there's always something beyond that single point. At the very least it might say that a certain part of the system is screwed up or they say the same thing with a sillier comparison. It didn't take many chances either, since it constantly tried to restrict itself. Every actor that I mentioned gave it their half. They weren't showing signs of struggling, but you know that what you're seeing isn't them at their best. Lewis Black should have been clocking 100 swears in under a minute, Walken should have had more of his speech mannerisms coming through and Robin Williams should have been bouncing off the walls. To it's defense, maybe having all three go to their full selves might have made too much of a clutter, but a film trying to juggle comedy with a conspiracy drama isn't any neater, though I get to that later. Even with the chances it tries to take, it limits them substantially. There's more time spent on Dobbs taking his presidential campaign seriously than there is time where Dobbs is making fun of the way politics is being run. Rather than have Dobbs muck about in the White House and push some bold or insane legislation, he's mucking about as the President-Elect. Oh yeah, I forgot to clarify, he's not the president in the film, he's the president-elect. With that simple detail, buckets upon buckets of potential have been thrown down the drain, crippling what could have been an absolute masterpiece. This alone could have been the biggest sin that the film could have committed, but one thing makes it worse.
Remember that woman that I mentioned above? The one that I didn't even dignify with the name of the character or the actress? She's the love interest in the film. For a while I had found unnecessary love interests to be harmless for the most part. They were sometimes stupid, but they were the kind of stupid that I could at least laugh at. This one on the other hand was one that made my teeth grind so many times that I can bite into an apple like it was butter. It was bad enough that there was this film trying to be something it shouldn't have been, a drama. But then there had to be a romantic relationship. It was so incredibly pointless to the plot and it was awkwardly shoehorned to give it some semblance of heart. Which turned out to be like performing surgery on a healthy person and replacing the heart with a rock. She honestly did feel like a rock, just kind of there, and occasionally catching the attention of someone because she came right out of nowhere. There wasn't anything she really added, and on top of that, she wasn't good enough as an actress to pull me into anything she said. Worse off, it's because of her that the unnecessary drama came along to ruin a film that had one hell of a chance as a stupendous comedy. And it's not as if the drama was working well enough with the comedy that you could at the very least excuse the shift in tone, no, it felt like two different movies were being played, and not in the hilariously awkward way where they're on at the same time, more in the gratingly annoying way of one movie going on for a while, stopping and then the other one goes by.
"If I do a Bill Clinton impression, will that cheer you up?"
Man Of The Year is about as mixed a movie as you can get. It's wasted potential combined with half-hearted performances from big names that has a great deal of faults that somehow can find themselves to be overlooked by the mere fact that one has incredibly low expectations that are exceeded substantially. If you have a comedian becoming the president of the US because of an election error, you don't focus more of the film on the comedian accepting that they might not be the real president, you have the comedian engage in tons of shenanigans. Much less if you have Robin Williams as said comedian because you miss out on some hilarious opportunities...or at the very least a few cute gags revolving around some of the previous work he's done (I would have been set with Genie's face being chiseled into Mount Rushmore). With that said, it still could have worked as a comedy-drama, provided both of those sides be evenly dispersed or sewn together properly. And at times, that actually did occur and it worked pretty well. But when you look at the film from a distance, it can't hold itself without tipping over. It never falls and crashes, but it's not something that anyone wants to go near to either. To say I was disappointed would depend on the ways I saw it. As a film that I saw simply because it had an actor I liked, it did enough and maybe went a little beyond in my eyes. As a film that when stripped down to concepts and ideas that could have been played around with, there wasn't enough experimentation or energy as I would have hoped.