Robin Williams stars in 'Man of the Year'

Mario Tarradell [The Dallas Morning News]

Robin Williams stars as comedian-turned-candidate Tom Dobbs in the movie "Man of the Year."

Politicians are a joke. And the electoral process isn't all that trustworthy, either. Those are the messages director and screenwriter Barry Levinson sends during "Man of the Year," the sometimes piquant comedy-drama starring Robin Williams.

The film's plot alone is a slap upside the head -- or at least a hard nudge -- to every typical career politician who spends countless hours perfecting his or her public image, speech-giving tactics and substance-free sound bite rhetoric. Williams plays Tom Dobbs, a late-night TV comedian and pundit who on a lark suggestion from an audience member throws in his name as an independent presidential candidate.

He generates enough notoriety and raises enough eyebrows to get on the ballot in several key states, making him a solid competitor to the Republican and Democratic nominees. Do you hear the echoes of Kinky Friedman?

Anyway, Dobbs takes to the campaign trail accompanied by manager Jack Menken (Christopher Walken) and head writer Eddie Langston (Lewis Black). A televised debate becomes his calling card. Dobbs commandeers the platform, not letting his opponents get a word in edgewise, and rants and raves in a series of hilarious yet fact-based one-liners about war, national security, health care and several other hot-seat issues.

The Dobbs campaign trail literally splashes before the cameras. Levinson films the public appearances as rock concerts characterized by flashy lights, screaming fans and loud, large-and-in-charge performances. Politics is equal to showmanship, which in the end is nothing more than momentary entertainment.

Dobbs is the most unconventional candidate. For one, he's completely honest. He fesses up to past drug use, a failed marriage and his single status. And while he's short on political experience, he strikes a chord with many tired of the same old.

Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) inadvertently crashes into Dobbs' life. While at work, she discovers a computer glitch in the electronic voting software the nation's about to use. That glitch could, and eventually does, alter the results of the election. After she warns her superiors, particularly the company's lethal lawyer Alan Stewart (Jeff Goldblum), she's fired, persecuted, drugged and even run-over in attempts to stifle her information.

This is when "Man of the Year" morphs from manic comedy to moody political thriller. For many, the switchover might be too abrupt. Especially since Williams tones down the voracious stand-up prowess and turns serious, a concerned man searching for truth that may render him a footnote.

It's all well handled. In fact, the only clunky aspect of the movie comes with a forced romance between Dobbs and Eleanor. Thank Williams for that mostly seamless flow. The Oscar-winner commands dramatic acting powers almost as strong as his funny-man muscles. And Levinson, who also satirized politics in 1997's acclaimed "Wag the Dog," directs with confident ease.

Plus, his point blazes through. At a time when politicians are most in question, Levinson feels no qualms about depicting the process as a hilarious and yet dangerous farce.



Grade: B-plus

Starring Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Lewis Black, Laura Linney and Jeff Goldblum. PG-13 (language, violence, sexual references, drugs). 115 minutes. In wide release.


© 2006, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.




Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.


Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.


Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.


Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.


Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.


Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.


Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump White House -- and then drags it all to Hell.


Folk's Jason Wilber Examines the World Through a Futurist Lens in 'Time Traveler' (album stream)

John Prine's former guitarist and musical director, Jason Wilber steps out with a new album, Time Traveler, featuring irreverent, pensive, and worldly folk music.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.