Barry Levinson knows how to get multitiered performances out of Robin Williams.
Ultimately, this movie seemed to suffer from having too different stories being told.
Man of the Year presents us with Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams), a man with a political talk show who, like many of today's comedian's doing political talk shows, happens to have a large audience because he tells the truth. After someone in his audience says that he should run for President, a grass roots campaign gets started and suddenly Dobbs is the Commander In Chief. Just when you think we're going to see how Robin Williams would deal with Foreign Policy, terrorists and domestic issues, the movie takes an interesting turn.
Apparently, there was a glitch in the voting system. This is discovered by Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) who works for Delacroy, a company who has created a supposedly flawless voting system. When Green brings this to the attention of the top brass, and it turns out that Dobbs isn't President, she is drugged, accused of taking drugs and then fired. She goes after Tom Dobbs and very easily befriends him, and soon they have a relationship. Torn between how much she likes Dobbs and doing the right thing, she eventually tells him that he didn't win the election.
However, the story takes another turn because Dobbs can still be president. So the movie eventually becomes about will Tom Dobbs be President? Will Eleanor's story be heard? And will the evil Delacroy win this heinous game? Ultimately, Man of the Year is uneven but it should play well with the political set.
Commander and Chief
This is a making of that actually begins as they are shooting the scene where Tom Dobbs goes on Saturday Night Live. After this, we are then treated to an assortment of talking heads in which the actors and director all talk about working together, each other, and the subject matter of the film. They discuss how the environments for each film are different, and we are shown a lot of on set and off set footage. What I wonder is why didn't anybody ever bring up the problems of this script? It just didn't seem to make any sense that they would have this movie that focuses on a guy getting elected, and then they stop and start focusing on problems that have been had with the election process. It literally feels like there are two different movies happening here.
Robin Williams: A "Stand Up" Guy
For some reason I got the impression that this featurette was merely leftovers from the first one I talked about. Also, how many of these things have we seen on countless DVDs (RV comes to mind) where actors praise Robin Williams improvisational genius? This footage is usually mixed with shots of Robin Williams riffing off camera showing that no matter where he is he still has it. What I would like to see is how he got it in the first place? Does he parse the newspapers like Lenny Bruce did? Or, is he really able to make it all up on the spot?
Anamorphic Widescreen - 2.35:1. This movie looked good and like a lot of Barry Levinson's pictures that means that he has created a strong set structure. This film feels real even though we know we are watching actors in a movie. Levinson really doesn't employ a lot of crazy camera moves or tricks to get his points across. This film simply presents itself, it tells the story and usually the story is so well composed it makes everything gel together. Sadly, this film didn't really have that because of the flaws in the story.
Language: English, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitled in English, Spanish and French. This sounded good. I didn't hear any problems with the audio transfer or mix. I think that mixing documentary-like footage of Robin Williams on stage with his performance was a smart idea. Tom Dobbs is easily the most well rounded and well written character that Williams has played in some time. While this movie may be uneven in a structural sense, it is very contained and compact in regards to how it presents itself.
The marketing people behind this movie got it wrong and I think they got it wrong with this DVD cover. When I first saw the billboard it was that same shot of Rob Williams with a wig on looking like George Washington. The only problem is that I don't think a lot of people A) put that together and B) could even tell what this film was about. Add to this a shoddy marketing campaign and it's no wonder why this film was easily forgotten. The back cover features some shots from the movie, all of which showcase this strong cast. There is a tiny description of what this film is about, a Bonus Features listing, a cast list and system specs.
Mixing footage of Robin Williams on stage as Tom Dobbs, with the actual performance Williams gives in the movie as this character was interesting. First of all, when he's on stage Robin Williams is Robin Williams. There's no way for this actor to be anyone else. Once he starts riffing, telling jokes, and pulling comedy out of events in history that nobody else could remember, it's hard to see this character as anything but Robin Williams. Juxtaposed with the somewhat laid back and quieter Tom Dobbs of this movie, I found it fascinating because we get to analyze Williams' performance and see who he really is. While I am sure that he would like us to be believe that he's more like the Tom Dobbs character that he plays, I think he's much more comfortable working a crowd.
I guess what surprises me most is that Barry Levinson is one of my favorite filmmakers. I light a candle to films like Diner, Tin Men, Rain Man, etc.. I even like his uneven films like Jimmy Hollywood and Wag the Dog. However, there's something about Man of the Year that sort of leaves a weird taste in my mouth. While I thought the acting was really good, I just don't know how much I buy the story.
I think Levinson and Co. might have been better off if they had focused more on how Dobbs was going to run the country, instead of how he ran his personal life.
Man of the Year was released October 9, 2006.