I respect Robin Williams. I think he can sometimes be very sweet, and other times be very funny. He’s a decent dramatic actor and, when given the right role, can do enough with it to turn in a memorable performance. His stand-up comedy is, at times, very funny. Having him play a comedian who runs for president — while taking shots at both the Republican and Democratic parties as well as the political process — is a good idea. Having him at the center of a political thriller is not.
It’s with this that we get Man of the Year, which is one part political comedy (if such a genre exists), and another political thriller, which is a much more familiar genre. Unfortunately, only the beginning part works, leaving you with half of a film that goes nowhere, doesn’t seem like a proper fit for its actors, and is far less engaging than the majority of the films that attempt to fit into the genre. When all the film is involves Robin Williams teeing off on different targets or having banter back and forth with his campaign partners, Man of the Year is fun. When it deviates from this, it becomes terrible really quickly.
Williams plays comedian Tom Dobbs, a man who has his own television show that deals with political issues among other things. On one episode, he jokes that he should run for President of the United States, and before you know it, he’s on thirteen State ballots and is on the campaign trail. The movie is still fun at this point, in large part because of the long speeches that Williams is allowed to deliver. He presents himself as a suitable candidate, and he endears himself to us, allowing us to hope he wins the election.
Unfortunately, there’s something bubbling under the surface. Laura Linney shows up as Eleanor Green, a woman tasked with working on the automated voting system for the upcoming election. While testing it late at night, she noticed an error which really should have been accounted for much earlier. She emails her boss, but he decides to ignore it and hope that it goes away. You can probably guess that it won’t and that he will end up trying to stop Eleanor from telling the world. Here is where our political thriller begins.
Here is also where Man of the Year begins to fall apart. Once Eleanor becomes a more prominent character, time is taken away from Williams and his comedy. It has to, as she has to be presented as a credible person. She also becomes somewhat of a love interest in what is most definitely the most cringe worthy plot point that the movie introduces. The two actors have no chemistry together, and the only strength that the film has is giving Robin Williams a stage and a topic and letting him have at it.
Instead, we get a terrible attempt at a thriller. It’s pitiful at what the filmmakers thought that we would buy into. The possible rigging of an election could be quite engaging — after all, it feels like it’s speculated after every election — but what is shown here is far from it. The terrible effort put in here practically ruins any good will that the earlier half of the film had, and I went away from it with a terrible taste in my mouth.
Actually, what we have here is half of a movie, with the second half really feeling like it was made up on the spot. Only the first half was thought through, and if you plan on watching Man of the Year, you’d be better of shutting it off after the finale of the election happens. You get none of the conspiracy, all of the criticism, and you might actually have a good time. I can recommend that part of Man of the Year, so if listening to Robin Williams talk about politics for 45 minutes, go ahead and put on the first portion of this movie.
The film never really stops being funny, but then, it never really starts either. It’s consistently funny, but it’s never laugh-out-loud funny, if you get what I mean. There’s a chuckle or two every scene, but there aren’t any big laugh moments and the average comedy level is a tad lower than you might hope for in a comedy starring Robin Williams. Granted, I don’t know how funny you can be when you must have mass appeal and you’re talking about politics, but I did still want more laughs.
There are some pretty big name actors/comedians that get moderately important roles in Man of the Year, which is kind of a surprise when you consider that it only really works when Williams is the center of attraction. Lewis Black, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, and even Saturday Night Live alumni Tina Fey and Amy Poehler make appearances as themselves — and not just in cameo roles; they’re actually kind of important in the grand scheme of things.
Man of the Year works for the first half, but completely falls off the rails in the second. I absolutely hated the second portion of the film, and because of that, I can’t recommend it. Coming away from it, I had a terribly negative opinion just because of how awful the final 45 minutes were. If you want to watch Man of the Year and have a good time, quit after Robin Williams either wins or loses the election. You get to avoid an atrocious political “thriller” if you do.