Summary: Man of the Year is an odd mix of comedy along with an attempt at suspense, plus the inclusion of political commentary to boot. It’s five-star cast can’t make up for the flaws in the script, and while unbelievable and uneven, it’s still maybe worth a watch to see Robin Williams, Lewis Black and Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum in the same movie – directed and written by Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam, Wag the Dog, Diner, The Natural). Monkey says, check it out if you’re a fan of Williams, but otherwise avoid. And if you want to see a better Levinson commentary on politics, rent Wag the Dog.
The movie attempts to mirror what it would be like if someone like Jon Stewart ran for president. Robin Williams plays Tom Dobbs, who makes an offhand remark on his Stewart/Colbert-like comedy talk show about running for president, and when he receives positive feedback from his viewers, ultimately decides to throw his name in the hat as an independent. That’s the first part of the movie and is the most entertaining. The interplay between the three comedians (Black, Walken and Williams) is fantastic. Lewis is a surprisingly fine actor.
The second part of the movie attempts to be a thriller when an employee (Laura Linney as Eleanor Green) of the organization (Delacroy) that does the electronic voting capture realizes the software has a glitch. On the eve of the election she approaches her bosses (Goldblum) about going public with this. He attempts to shut her down, drug her and then fire her and even ultimately kill her. In the meantime, she contacts Tom Dobbs (Williams) who by this point has been declared president, and tries to convince him that he was not really elected. And this convoluted plot twist is what makes the movie nearly unwatchable.
First, the glitch itself is unbelievable – I won’t divulge the details. Dobbs is so lonely as the president-elect that he quickly believes this woman and has a “feeling” about her. His secret service allows her to easily break into a private event. Dobbs is allowed to take over nationally televised debate and do his Williams-manic blast of the other candidates. Dobbs spends the election night alone with Walken’s character (his manager) in the hospital. Eleanor Green (Linney) is drugged, does not remember being injected with a cocktail of what seems like improbable drugs (cocaine, meta-amphetamines, etc.), is able to get dressed and head to work but then breaks down in the work cafeteria. Ugh and sigh (and ugh).
The trouble is, either of these plot lines would have been perfect (with some corrections to the believability). The first part of the movie is a great skewer of the political process. Williams’ take over of the debate is perfect, and what we would all really like to see happen today (Note: recently, Donald Trump is attempting the same with a lot less class and humor – but there’s still some satisfaction that he has the audacity to say whatever he thinks). And there’s plenty of great lines like Lewis Black’s “Mark Twain said that the difference between real life and fiction is that fiction has to be believable” and another references how insane television is by lining up a true expert and then finding some idiot with a dissenting opinion and having them debate a topic on equal ground”. Really great stuff and well done.
But the second plot runs off the rails. The behavior of Delacroy (the organization in charge of the voting results) is outrageous. Is every corporation evil? The CEO (Goldblum) is too quick to decide to dispatch Eleanor Green. Linney’s acting is good and subtle in parts, but her outburst in the cafeteria as drug laden is over the top. She seems like a stable employee, soft spoken and calm and her behavior is not seen as uncharacteristic? Dobb’s revealing the glitch on SNL during weekend update is somewhat unbelievable as well. And this all takes away from the movie and honestly makes you wish it had been two movies – with more effort being put into each.
Additionally, there are times when Tom Dobbs makes public comments to reporters that are just plain dirty or offensive. Honestly, if someone like Stewart or Colbert were to run for president, they would be intelligent enough to not behave this way knowing that it would offend people who were on the fence regarding their vote, not to mention that it would distract voters from the true message of their campaign.
All that being said, the acting is generally good. Robin Williams shows that he could still do subtle performances. His relationship with Linney is believable. Lewis Black is hilarious and he’s a natural actor, and Walken (here 9 years ago) reminds us of what a great actor he was. Goldblum plays his stock style; slow speaking, with odd pauses in his sentences – but is always fun to watch.
The Monkey suggests you avoid this movie unless you really want to see the last few movies Williams did, and want a taste of what it would be like if someone like Jon Stewart ran for president.