Written and Directed by: Barry Levinson
Starring: Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Laura Linney, Lewis Black, Jeff Goldblum
Rated: PG-13 for language including some crude sexual references, drug related material, and brief violence.
Parental Notes: This is a fairly innocuous film for teens and mature preteens, but youngsters may be frightened by the thriller plot line.
A quick browse online will show that there are plenty of people who want Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” to run for president. Barry Levinson has taken this idea and run with it to create “Man of the Year,” a comedy in which a political comedian, Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams, “RV”), runs for president — and wins. Although the idea is a timely one, the film tries to be too many things and winds up falling far short of its potential.
Tom gets the idea to run when a woman in his studio audience asks if he would and the idea is loudly applauded. He announces his candidacy not long after, and soon is on the road campaigning with his manager Jack Mencken (Christopher Walken, “Click”) and head writer Eddie Langston (Lewis Black, “Accepted”) in tow. Tom tries to run a standard campaign, giving dull and dry speeches and talking about the issues, until he makes it into the debate a month before the election. While on live television, he loses his cool and tears into the other candidates with the razor-sharp wit he’s known for. The crowd loves him, and he decides to revamp his campaign.
Williams is in fine form, delivering zippy one-liners and rousing comedic speeches with flair. Even when Tom is off-camera, he’s a funny guy, but Williams doesn’t make him into a one-note clown. We see Tom’ self-doubt and his concern that because he’s a comedian, people won’t take him seriously if he makes them laugh. It’s a solid performance from a master comedian.
Meanwhile, we meet Eleanor Green (Laura Linney, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”), a high-ranking software engineer at polling machine company. Their machines are going to be used at all polling stations nation-wide, but she has found a glitch in the software which will result in incorrect election results. She notifies the CEO of the company, but is brushed off. On election night, she watches in horror as Tom soars to an obviously false victory. When she goes to the CEO again, she is warned not to take the information public.
Linney is a solid actress but doesn’t quite pull off the software engineer role. She conveys the emotions of the character well, particularly once the CEO’s sidekick Alan (Jeff Goldblum) sics his henchmen on her to keep her quiet. However, she doesn’t quite have the nuances of the engineer down. There’s more to a software engineer than a bit of social awkwardness, which is all Linney assumes here.
However, the two plot lines are from very different films. Tom is the star of a comedy, or perhaps a political satire, while Eleanor is the star of a thriller. They don’t mix well; it’s hard to laugh at lighthearted comedy in one scene when we know that just a scene before a masked man did something very ominous to our heroine. Levinson would have done better to choose one genre and stick with it.
Once Eleanor gets the idea to go directly to Tom with her information, the film adds “romance” to the genre list and really starts to fall apart. It’s a shame, as the underlying point of the film is one that needs to be made: a great many Americans are so fed up with our political system that a grassroots campaign to elect a totally inexperienced person is not only not out of the question but something that makes audiences cheer. Unfortunately, “Man of the Year” does a mediocre job of carrying that point.