Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Man of the Year

Man of the Year (Levinson, 2006) Politics are no laughing matter. Or are they? Maybe our current malaise is so deep that only a comedy can really reveal the mess we are in. After all, political satire has a long and distinguished history. More Mr. Smith goes to Washington than The Manchurian Candidate (even the good version), Man of the Year is an attempt to show not only the lack of any real choice we have between the Republican and Democrat parties but also the way that an election might be stolen.

SPOILER ALERT: Barry Levinson is an accomplished enough director to get what he needs out of his cast including just enough but not too much out of Robin Williams as Tom Dobbs, a comedian who hosts a news satire TV show (and Jon Stewart gets the nod here) and Christopher Walken who plays Jack Mencken his manager, who acts as an on-screen narrator to the story as it unfolds from the decision of Dobbs to rise to the challenge set him by a member of the audience to enter the Presidential race. Although he has made his reputation as a hard-hitting satirist, Dobbs attempts to take the high road in his campaign eschewing any advertising in his attempt to be a clean candidate beholden to no-one but 'the people'. However, his desire to stick to 'the issues' doesn't seem to be what his potential supporters want and, after a hilarious parody of a Presidential debate, he finally gives in to the urging of his manager and his writer, Eddie Langston, (played by Lewis Black channeling Al Franken?) and runs a campaign that looks more like a mixture of a rock concert and a motivational speaker's tour. It seems to work when on Election Day, after having polled around 17% of the vote, he surprisingly emerges as the President-elect.

The truth is that he has won because of a glitch in the voting machines that have been mandated for the election. They are manufactured by the Diebold Delacroy Corporation, headed by Hemmings (Rick Roberts) and aided by Jeff Goldblum who gives the only dialed-in performance as Stewart, the 'creepy guy' legal counsel. This fault in the software is discoverd by Laura Linney (Eleanor Green), (who is anything but dialing it in but when does she ever?) but her warnings are ignored by her superiors who do not want to do anything to damage the company's reputation and, hence, the value of its rapidly rising stock. In fact, they are so concerned to cover up that Stewart arranges for Green to be injected with so many drugs that she becomes incoherently belligerent and they can justify firing her on the pretext of sending her to drug rehabilitation. However, Green is determined to get the truth out and to confront President-elect Dobbs with what she knows. But, how could she get close enough to him? Levinson, who is also credited as the writer on this movie, finds a way to marry the two elements of the story (and forgive the pun) by introducing a romantic twist to the plot. Dobbs may be a savagely funny public performer but he has had little success with the opposite sex. So he is open to Eleanor's advances even after he is warned of her supposed drug problem because he is attracted to her. And, of course, we know the ending: the bad guys are exposed, Dobbs goes back to what he does best, holding the politicians accountable from the sidelines and he gets the girl. It's not a great movie but Levinson manages to switch from political satire to political thriller without it feeling too incompatible though this is a rather toothless and unfocused attack on the political system compared to the director's earlier Wag the Dog (1997).

No comments: