Man of the Year
Man of the Year is a comedy movie directed by Barry Levinson and featuring Robin Williams in the lead role. In addition to Williams, the film features Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Linney and Lewis Black.
In the film, Williams portrays Tom Dobbs, the host of a comedy/political talk show, based loosely on the real-life personas of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. When an offhand remark he makes prompts 4 million people to email their support, Dobbs decides to campaign for President. To nearly everyone's surprise, he is declared winner of the election.
The film premiered on October 13, 2006.
The story opens with Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) as a comedic talk show host who is able to tap into people's frustrations with the sharply divided, special-interest driven political climate. During his warm-up act, an audience member suggests that he run for President. At first, Dobbs laughs off the idea, but following a popular groundswell of support, later announces on the air that he will stand as a candidate. Through his efforts, he gets on the ballot in 13 states and participates in one of the national debates with the Democratic and Republican candidates.
A parallel plot follows Eleanor (played by Laura Linney), who works at a voting machine company called Delacroy. (The many connections between the troubled Delacroy and some accusations against real-world Diebold Election Systems are difficult to miss.) According to a television commercial in the movie, the entire United States will be using Delacroy voting machines for the presidential election. Shortly before the elections, Eleanor notices an error in the voting system, but the head of the company purposefully ignores her warnings. Initially, Dobbs approaches the campaign seriously - perhaps too seriously, to the chagrin of his staff, especially his manager Jack Menken (Christopher Walken). That turns around the night of the presidential debates, where, fed up with the posturing of the other candidates, he shifts back into comedian mode, managing to keep the audience laughing and make serious points simultaneously. From then on, he resumes his showman persona, thoroughly shaking up the political landscape.
On election night, the results show that Tom Dobbs has won the race for president, beating out both other candidates. While Dobbs and his crew move from shock to celebration, Eleanor remains unconvinced. She considers revealing the computer error to the public, but is attacked in her home (presumably by Delacroy agents) and injected with a cocktail of drugs. Upon going to work, her behavior is erratic in the extreme, and she is hospitalized for drug overdose (and the company uses this as a pretext to fire her). Upon recovering in the hospital, she realizes that very few people would believe her story, but decides that if nothing else, she must tell Dobbs.
Though still suffering from the aftereffects of the drugs in her system, Eleanor eventually makes her way to Tom Dobbs' victory party. There, she unconvincingly impersonates an FBI agent but manages to catch Dobbs' eye, the two dance through the evening, and Dobbs gives her his telephone number. Eleanor cannot bring herself to tell Dobbs that he is not really the president-elect. Later, Dobbs tries to get back in contact with Eleanor by calling Delacroy. This immediately raises the suspicions of the Delacroy leaders, and they redouble their efforts to silence Eleanor. Eleanor calls Dobbs and he whisks her off to a paintball fight, followed by Thanksgiving dinner. At dinner, she finally gets him alone to tell him that the elections were a fraud, then leaves.
Dobbs wrestles with the idea that he should not have been elected as President and finally decides to break Eleanor's news to the public in a major speech. However, Delacroy pre-empts his announcement with one of their own, stating that Eleanor was caught attempting to throw the election for Dobbs, but that her efforts had no impact on the polls. Eleanor becomes increasingly fearful for her safety, a feeling that is soon justified as agents break into the hotel room where she is staying to confiscate her computer, the only evidence she had.
Desperate, Eleanor first flees to a mall, where she is found by a Delacroy agent but escapes. She then drives to find a pay phone so that she can call Dobbs for help. She manages to reach him but is not able to communicate anything before the Delacroy agent's truck crashes into the phone booth; she escapes just before the collision but is still injured and is hospitalized a second time. Dobbs goes to the scene, and though he cannot understand what she is trying to say, he is convinced that she was telling the truth about the election. During the Weekend Update section of the sketch comedy tv show Saturday Night Live, he finally announces to the public that the elections were flawed and that he should not be President-elect.
Dobbs declines to become president, and how the next President is chosen is not shown (President Kellogg is re-elected). Dobbs returns to his career as a talk-show host, but now with Eleanor at his side as his wife.
Spoilers end here.
Man of the Year received primarily negative reviews, with the critics' aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes giving a rating of 21%. It debuted at #3 at the box office its opening weekend, with a theatrical gross of $12,550,000. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com wrote, "It's a comedy, a political thriller, a love story: Barry Levinson's Man of the Year tries to be all things to all people and fails on every count — a little like the generic, ineffectual politicians it's pretending to excoriate". James Berardinelli of Reelviews.net felt it "makes telling points and has a lot to say, but it loses its voice along with its consistency around the mid-way point". Josh Larsen of the Sun Publications line of newspapers asked straight out, "What is it about Robin Williams that he often appears in these wild misfires, pictures that are so full of promise yet so disastrous in execution?" Frank Lovece of Film Journal placed the well-regarded Levinson's challenge and failure within a larger context: "If satire is what dies on a Saturday night, then political-satire movies are what die on Fridays. Maybe we're used to the TV topicality of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or Real Time with Bill Maher, whereas movies are months in the making, turning their current events into history. Yet successful satire needn't be topical — witness Network, Election, Dr. Strangelove — because some verities are timeless. Since when, after all, hasn't there been a populist saying, 'Throw the rascals out?'"
* The general plot shares elements with Rick Shelley's short story "But First a Message... ", published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact in April 1985, in which a talk show host is elected President as a write-in candidate.
* Several references are made throughout the film to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Real Time with Bill Maher, including a reference to The Daily Show in a scene with Daily Show regular Lewis Black.
* Robin Williams improvised most of the speech scenes by adding humor in his style.
* The incumbent US president and the other challenger are both named after cereal companies: Kellogg and Mills (as in General Mills).
* Howard Stern was originally offered the lead role, but turned it down due to obligations he had to his new broacaster, Sirius Satellite Radio.