Culture > Theater

Sober tall tale

Theater | Man of the Year works because it takes politics seriously

Issue: "Too close to call," Oct. 28, 2006

The story in Man of the Year, at first glance, seems familiar: Some ridiculous outsider-funny, authentic, the antithesis of homo politicus-is thrust into the presidency. The man this time around is Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams), a comedian-cum-TV-host who gets so fed up with government that he runs for president.

But Man of the Year (PG-13 for sexual references) is no goofball comedy. Dobbs is a comedian, for sure, but he's not ridiculous. Despite the film's poster, which puts Williams-as-Dobbs in a powdered wig, the Dobbs of the film-except for his potty humor-is less juvenile. In fact, the film is at times unusually sober.

It begins as a tall tale, then flips into gritty satire, then flops into political thriller, then flips one last time into romantic comedy-and has lots of red herrings.

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The biggest one is a subplot that turns into the main plot: Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) is a programmer for Delacroy, the corporation that holds the national franchise rights for voting machines. She finds a glitch in the voting program, and when Dobbs is elected president, she fears it's an error. Fired and discredited, she goes on a quest to find the one man she's sure will believe her: the new president-elect himself.

Two-thirds through the film, you forget about the political satire and simply watch the film for the sake of the story, and that's a good thing. You might expect Man of the Year to make some progressive commentary-as Hollywood political films are wont to do-but thankfully, thankfully, oh so thankfully, it doesn't happen. The film maintains its integrity as a piece of art that doesn't capitulate to politics but has politics capitulate to it.

That's because, unlike so many political comedies, Man of the Year takes politics seriously. At one point, Dobbs says, "I'm a jester. A jester doesn't rule the kingdom. He makes fun of the king." Wise fool indeed.

Harrison Scott Key
Harrison Scott Key


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