I realized this weekend that the entire genre of a guileless everyman who stumbles into Washington by accident only to discover that it’s up to him to fix American politics was rendered almost instantaneously (and painfully) out of date last Tuesday. That’s not to say that Barack Obama is a guileless everyman. He is not. And it’s also not to say that he’s going to fix American politics. But that wide-eyed comedic trope of exposing the corruption of the American political system via an honest and forthright schmo no longer has the same poignancy. Man of the Year is one of those movies. Although what it now lacks in poignancy it has always made up for, I assume, in being terrible. I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that this movie was probably as horrible on November 3rd, 2008, as it is now. But now it’s out of touch and unrepresentative of any political mood, so if anything it’s even worse.
Man of the Year is about a Jon Stewart type political comedian (Robin Williams) who off-handedly makes a remark about running for president on his show only to get 4 million emails encouraging him to actually do it. He enters the race and really stirs things up with his exhausting one-liners and insufferable impersonations. Due to a computer error in the new computerized voting machines, he actually gets elected president. Laura Linney, a computerized voting machine programmer, discovers the error and so her evil boss and also Jeff Goldblum hire someone to break into her house and inject her with a syringe full of morphine, codeine, cocaine, Tylenol, detergent, and marijuana seeds. She gets fired from her job for being a drug addict. Then she goes to a party posing as an FBI agent and meets President Robin Williams and they fall in love. Then she tells him that he’s not actually the President. It’s up to him to decide whether to do the right thing, or to just be the President. Meanwhile, hit men try to kill Laura Linney. In the end, Robin Williams tells everyone that he’s not President during a Weekend Update sketch on Saturday Night Live, and everyone is like “oh man, this guy is the best,” and he goes back to being really famous but not President famous. And Laura Linney becomes a producer on his show.
Christopher Walken sums the whole thing up best:
The main problems with this movie, besides TOTAL IRRELEVANCE and ROBIN WILLIAMS, is that it’s all predicated on tremendous lies. For example, everyone in the movie thinks Robin Williams is HILARIOUS. America LOVES him. Except that he’s horrible and annoying and obnoxious and not funny at all. But even accepting the movie’s premise that he’s funny, which is sad when a comedy makes you willfully suspend your disbelief that the comedic hero is actually funny, it’s still impossible that someone would be funny to a majority of the population. During this past election, The Daily Show got its highest ratings in history, with 3.6 million viewers. That’s just over one percent of the population, which is great, and which is also nothing. The idea that the American people wouldn’t be up in arms over this, or demanding a careful examination of the voting machines that handed the election over to a third party candidate who was pulling 16 percent according to all known polling data is not only wrong, it’s insulting.
When Robin Williams is allowed into the presidential debate, he makes a mockery of the entire proceedings by stepping into the middle of the stage and doing a 10 minute RIFF that is painful in how unfunny it is. The idea is that he’s speaking truth to power, but Mike Gravel spoke truth to power during the democratic primaries and he seemed like an off-kilter old man in need of medication.
On his first day as president-elect, Robin Williams goes to congress dressed in a George Washington costume and everyone thinks it’s hilarious and amazing and so irreverent, except it’s rude and disgraceful and annoying. Robin Williams is the worst.
I also love the part where Laura Linney decides that the only way to get the truth out there about the computer error is to talk to the president elect, so she flies to Washington and goes to the president elect’s birthday party and walks up to his table and he asks her to dance. Because that’s how things work. It’s like when you travel back in time to murder Hitler and have no problem getting to him despite a global dominating war machine because of how good your intentions are.
I’ve decided to actually spare you from having to listen to any of Robin Williams’s extended rants. Just know that they are painful and unbearable. And know that you owe me one.
The whole movie was so obviously dreamed up by Barry Levinson when they read some trendsetter piece about how more young people get their news from The Onion than any other source, or whatever. That’s been thoroughly debunked, and even if it was true this movie STILL sucks, but what clearly has not been debunked, and if anything has been further bunked, is that Barry Levinson gets all of his ideas about how the world works from the Sunday Styles section. It’s a really big leap from thinking that a bunch of stoned college kids laughing at Colbert instead of doing their biochem homework in their dorm rooms constitutes a genuine desire on the part of a frustrated electorate for a man who’s not even competent at the thing he’s supposed to be good at, comedy, to the highest office in the country. Shut up, Barry Levinson. One thing I did realize in watching this movie, is that the aforementioned genre of a truthful, forthright schmo becoming president of the United States and fixing everything is probably the most powerful evidence the right wing has of Hollywood’s liberal bias, because it’s always someone who wants to make things better for human beings. You never really get a light political comedy about someone showing up to government and taking away human rights, legalizing all the automatic weapons, and enforcing a tax system that overburdens the poor. Although if they did, Robin Williams would still be the worst.